Ashley Donohoe, 22, and five Irish exchange students were killed last summer when a Berkeley balcony collapsed beneath them. The construction company who built the balcony has a history of poor work, and while the California District Attorney declined to bring forth any criminal charges, survivors and relatives of the deceased are now testifying before state Assembly committees in attempts to bring forth legal changes that will prevent similar tragic construction accidents in the future.
On Wednesday, Donohoe’s mother testified before California’s Assembly Appropriations Committee and requested its members to support Senate Bill 465. The original version of the bill would have required authorities to notify the state licensing board whenever contractors are convicted of felonies or when the settle a significant claim involving negligence, incompetence, fraud, or similar professional wrongdoing of a serious nature, particularly those that relate to construction accidents.
However, in response to strong protests by the state’s construction industry, SB 465 has since been watered down to require simply for the Contractors State License Board and the Building Standards Commission to research their own solutions on how to reduce negligent contractors and improve transparency by 2018.
The content of SB 465 is shaped by what has since been learned about the Berkeley accident. The construction firm hired to build the balcony had previously paid over $26.5 million in construction defect settlements — none of which were reported to the state’s licensing board and much of which were done with nondisclosure provisions.
In addition to Donohoe’s testimony, there were also a few survivors of the incident who flew in from Ireland to give their statements. Aoife Beary, 22, of Dublin told the committee that the friends she lost and the injuries she suffered in the collapse would forever impact her life. Such injuries included several broken bones, organ lacerations, and broken teeth.
“I cannot believe why you’re even debating this bill — people’s lives,” Beary chided the committee. “You should ensure all balconies are scrutinized in this state to prevent this from happening again.”
While SB 465 slogs through the state’s legislative branches, the city of Berkeley has taken a more proactive approach. Inspections have been ordered on all existing balconies and the city government has voted in favor of requiring the construction of all new balconies to be of corrosion-resistant material.
Additionally, the survivors and relatives of the deceased have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Berkeley balcony’s contracting company.
Information Source: Mercury News, 10 Aug 2016
Photo by Elissa Harrington via KGO-TV.