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Bay Area balcony collapse blamed on rotted structural wood

It has been a difficult month for Bay Area residents after hearing the news of a tragic and fatal balcony collapse. On June 16, six young adults were killed and another seven were seriously injured when the balcony of a Berkeley apartment building detached from the building and plummeted five stories to the street below.

Most of the victims were students from Ireland. All were attending a birthday party in the apartment building. Because the building is less than 10 years old, it seemed clear that the cause of the accident could not have been normal age-related deterioration. That suspicion was confirmed earlier this week, when inspectors determined that the balcony collapse was caused by severe dry rot due to inadequate weather-proofing.

The floor of the balcony was composed of a concrete slab apparently supported by wooden beams. Inspectors noted that the ends of the deck joists jutting out of the exterior wall had sustained water damage and were severely rotted. The weight of the balcony (including the weight of 13 people standing on it) was too heavy to be supported by the compromised beams.

A tragic incident like this one is likely to prompt a premises liability lawsuit. But certain details about this case make it difficult to predict who exactly can be held liable.

According to news sources, the building plans were approved by the city, which meant that they complied with the California Building code. It had also been inspected as required by code. Yet a collapse like this one should not have happened in a structurally sound building. Are the codes in need of reform? Have inspections been too lax? Did the builders forget certain steps or use inferior materials?

At this point, there are many questions that need to be answered. One thing is clear, however: This balcony collapse didn't need to happen and should have been prevented.

Source: NBC Bay Area, "City Inspectors Find Badly Rotted Beams After Deadly Berkeley Balcony Collapse," Riya Bhattacharjee, June 23, 2015

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