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Berkeley Balcony Collapse


What started as a celebration of a fellow-student's 21st birthday ended in tragedy when the balcony on which many of the students were standing suddenly collapsed. Mostly Irish exchange students, they had gathered at the apartment complex on the Berkeley campus of the University of California known as Berkeley's Library Gardens. Although the building is less than ten years old, dry rot had eaten away at the wood joists holding up the fifth-floor balcony causing the cantilevering to give way. The result: six people plunged to their deaths, and seven others were hospitalized, some with severe injuries.


Dry rot in wood beams that support elevated walkways and balconies is a common problem. With huge gaps in inspection enforcement, structural integrity is not always assured. For instance, inspections for dry rot should occur approximately once a year but often do not occur unless there is a complaint, and there usually is not a complaint about something that is not visible. A regular inspection, however, could reveal hidden water damage such as mold and dry rot.

An inspection of a deck or balcony prior to renting or buying a home or condominium is extremely important. One such inspection would have prevented the deck collapse that occurred in May in DeKalb County, Georgia, which injured nine people, sending seven of them to the hospital. The family had lived at the home where the collapse occurred only a month before inviting people over for a gathering after a wedding. The deck was not inspected when the family moved in or at anytime before the party. Including a deck or balcony in a home inspection as part of a purchase or rental agreement is crucial; that way any necessary repairs can be done prior to a closing and before anyone is injured.


As noted above, regular inspections of decks and balconies are key to ensuring their safety. Any deck or balcony must be built in accordance with all relevant building codes and permits, and any additions must be done the same way. Adding too much weight onto existing supports, or adding it in a way that destabilizes the structure can have catastrophic results. Regular maintenance such as sealing the wood properly to protect against rot and decay, and replacing warped or damaged boards, is also key to preserving the safety of decks and balconies. The anchors and bolts that hold a deck or balcony to the permanent structure should always be checked and reinforced. Finally, it is common sense not to exceed the weight capacity of a deck or balcony by over-crowding.


If you or someone close to you has been injured while on a deck or balcony, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm. Liability for your injury will depend on maintenance of the deck or balcony, construction, materials used, the circumstances at the time of the injury, and many other facts that an expert in Atlanta personal injury law such as Dave Thomas will evaluate. Call for a free consultation today!

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Thomas Law Firm
Located at 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Resurgens Plaza, GA 30326.

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