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Three young Irish women who rented Berkeley apartment sue over tragic balcony collapse

It was “only by the grace of God” that Caroline Conlan, Cliodhna Maloney and Aisling Tallon were not enveloped in the collapse.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE THREE YOUNG Irish women who had rented the Berkeley apartment where a balcony collapse killed six of their friends last summer have sued the apartment owners and managers for emotional distress.

It was “only by the grace of God” that Caroline Conlan, Cliodhna Maloney and Aisling Tallon were not on the balcony when it broke away from the building in the Library Gardens complex, their lawyers have said.

In a graphic description of what happened on that tragic night, the three say they saw, heard, felt and experienced the collapse – each of them fearing for their lives, believing they would be enveloped in it as well.

In the complaint filed in a Californian court last month, the three women claim they suffered ”severe mental and emotional harm” when they were put in danger in their own apartment and ‘forced to witness the horrific accident that killed and disabled their closest friends’.

The documents detail how the three young women had stepped off the balcony and into their fourth floor apartment “just before it broke away from the building and fell”.

“Having had their own lives in grave peril from the collapse, and having seen, heard and felt the collapse of the balcony followed by seeing and hearing their dearest friends plummeted to the ground below, they suffered severe emotional and mental injuries from which they have not recovered,” the complaint continues.

Berkeley Balcony Collapse Source: AP/Press Association Images

The three students had leased the eight-year-old apartment for the summer after they had travelled to Berkeley on J1 visas. Two weeks later, on the 16 June 2015, they were celebrating the 21st birthday of their other roommate Aoife Beary.

The complaint describes the party as a gathering of “well-educated, hard-working, healthy and happy young men and women”.

Most of those gathered for the celebration had grown up in Dublin, Ireland and were enrolled in top-tier Irish universities. They were spending their summer break working in the Bay Area to earn money for the upcoming school year.

Shortly after midnight, 13 students were standing on the balcony outside apartment 405. The complaint recalls the moment the balcony “broke loose from the building, tumbled down and struck the third floor balcony directly below it, hurling 13 students onto the cement sidewalk and asphalt pavement 40 feet below”.

Fearing for their lives in the initial chaos, Cliodhna, Aisling and Caroline all looked down at a “heap of bodies and rotted balcony lying on the ground 40 feet below”.

Olivia Burke, Eimear Walsh, Ashley Donohue, Niccolai Schuster, Eoghan Culligan and Lorcan Miller – all friends and students – died in the tragedy. Seven others were badly injured.

PastedImage-64994 Eoghan Culligan, Eimear Walsh, Niccolai Schuster, Ashley Donohoe, Loran Miller and Olivia Burke

Lawyers for the women argue that the harm would not have occurred if the named defendants – including the companies responsible for the property – acted “reasonably and prudently”.

They accuse apartment owner Blackrock and complex management company Greystar of not complying within the standard of care in their professions, of cutting corners and failing to take heed of numerous red flag warning signs that the balcony was unsafe.

They are accused of knowing that wood rot had destroyed the structural integrity of the wood on the balcony. It is also alleged that there was a large period of time between the building and waterproofing of the balcony during which it was exposed to “harsh and wet conditions, including extensive rainfall”.

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The lawsuit, the plaintiffs say, seeks to hold accountable those that bear responsibility for their injuries and to make sure a similar tragedy never happens again.

Lawyers for the three women have asked for a jury trial to decide on damages.

In a statement to local newspaper East Bay Times, their attorney Timothy McMahon said, “As you can imagine, it has been a nightmare and tragedy for all of those involved.

Above all else, my clients (who witnessed these unspeakable events, and feared for their own lives) continue to mourn and pray for the loss of their dear friends and those that suffered the horrific injuries from the collapse.

Last month, California’s District Attorney’s Office confirmed that no criminal charges were to be brought in the case.

Assistant DA Kevin Dunleavy said that “destructive testing” of the balcony found that there was negligence by many parties but not enough to lead to criminal charges.

A report published in the weeks following the tragedy by the City of Berkeley concluded that dry rot resulting from water damage led to the balcony’s collapse.

Another civil case is being taken by the families of those killed and injured in the incident. The burden of proof in civil cases is generally less than in criminal ones.

More: Berkeley mayor says balcony victims’ families should be paid ‘as much as possible’

Read: No criminal charges will be brought over Berkeley balcony collapse

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