herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

Berkeley families call for sweeping changes to building safety laws

Safety inspector examine the site of the balcony collapse Picture: AP
Safety inspector examine the site of the balcony collapse Picture: AP

The families of six students who died in the Berkeley balcony tragedy want Californian legislators to study building safety laws from New Zealand and Japan.

In a submission to the state's assembly budget committee, the families lay out three distinctive changes they want made to the laws in the hope of preventing similar accidents.

Lawsuits

In particular, they point out that one of the firms respon- sible for work on the apartment where the balcony collapsed had settled a number of lawsuits for construction defects at other properties.

Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Miller, Nick Schuster, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke and Olivia's Irish-American cousin Ashley Donohoe died when they falling to the ground when the fourth-floor balcony gave way in June last year.

Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters were seriously injured.

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who is in the United States attending the Democratic National Convention, personally delivered the families' submission to Lorena Gonzalez, the chairwoman of the committee.

The Herald understands they want a new bill that would require the Contractors State Licence Board and the California Building Standards Commission to report convictions for any crime that is related to their qualifications or work.

Their submission also questions whether the board would be in a better position to protect residents if companies were required to report judgments, arbitration awards and claims settlements for construction defects.

They also want a working group to look into existing building standards and make recommendations for improvements.

The submission notes that the Berkeley tragedy could have been avoided if better standards had been in place and says the families want to prevent others having to live with similar trauma.

They say the authorities in California should set up a committee to learn from what happened in Japan after the 1995 Kobe earthquake disaster and in Christchurch, New Zealand, after its two earthquakes in recent years.

Several companies are being sued as a result of the Berkeley balcony collapse but have sought to shift blame for the tragedy on to the victims.

At least four firms implicated in the case have claimed the students involved may bear some responsibility.

Allegations have been made that their "carelessness and negligence" may have been a contributory factor.

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