On June 16th five visiting Irish college students and another from California were killed, and seven others seriously injured. This occurred after a fifth-floor balcony collapsed. The balcony is located just blocks from the University of California, Berkeley campus. Officials are still determining the cause of the collapse.
The building, which was built in 2007, is being investigated to determine the cause of the collapse. In an inevitable lawsuit, evidence surrounding whether the balcony was built to code, whether it was overloaded and whether rain or other elements weakened it, will be critical. The balcony will need to be measured to see if it met the 60-pound-per-square-foot weight bearance requirement. This is what was in place at the time of construction. Experts have already released some opinions on the accident. Many question whether the balcony was large enough to safely accommodate 13 people.
California law does not require building owners to post weight limit warnings for balconies.
In a radio interview with KCBS news in San Francisco, construction and commercial building expert David Doddridge, who works closely with The Expert Institute, was asked about the design, construction, and standard maintenance requirements of residential balconies. Doddridge explained that while this building is relatively new, residential buildings, especially those built in areas with increasing demand for housing like Berkeley, are often built quickly. Usually with a high turnover of employees. This results in decreased quality of work, which increases in the odds of an error occurring during construction.
Doddridge also noted that when it comes to balconies, it is important to understand the methods of construction behind them. Balconies are supported horizontally. Meaning they continue into the building two to four times as many feet as the length of the visible section. It is also of the utmost importance to manage the construction process. Making sure that no water permeates the area where the balcony enters through the wall. Doddridge believes that the connection of the balcony to the building most likely failed due to water infiltration.
“I believe, just in my short viewing of what we’re looking at here in Berkeley, is that the connection at the building failed, and most likely because of water-infiltration. Regardless of whether the balconies are wood-framed, if they are wood-framed, then the water infiltration can cause rot, or if they’re concrete, steel-reinforced concrete, in which the water can cause a lot of damage to that as well. Typically, balconies or decks fail due to a connection issue at the building line, at the outside wall of the building,” said Doddridge.
The building is owned by BlackRock, the largest asset-management fund in the U.S. It is managed by Greystar Management, which operates more than 400,000 units in the U.S. and abroad. At trial, expert witnesses will be used by both parties to demonstrate whether the balcony collapsed due to flaws in its construction. Or rather due to the excess amount of weight being placed on it.