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Case Hits Builder in Fatal Balcony Collapse

Friday, December 2, 2016

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State contractor licensing regulators in California want to suspend or revoke the license of a general contractor linked to the deadly collapse of a Berkeley apartment building balcony in June 2015.

Six people were killed and several more were injured in the June 16 collapse at the Library Gardens apartment complex. Most of the victims were Irish students visiting on a summer-abroad program.

On Tuesday (Nov. 29), the California Contractors State License Board filed a formal “accusation” against Segue Construction Inc. The Pleasanton, CA, contractor completed the building in 2007.

Severe Dry Rot

Shortly after the incident, city building inspectors said the deck had severe dry rot, including on the joist ends where it tore away from the building.

Authorities have said “water had been trapped (or ‘encapsulated’) in the balcony deck during construction.”

The board alleged that it was the “decay of the joists that caused the balcony to collapse.”

Departure from Design

“Design and load analysis of the balcony established that if the balcony had been built as designed, the imposed load of 13 students was well within the design limits of the balcony structure,” the board said in the accusation document.

The board accused the general contractor of willfully departing from or disregarding building plans or specifications as well as willfully departing from accepted trade standards for good and workmanlike construction.

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Segue Construction completed the Library Gardens apartment complex in 2007.

Specifically, the board said Segue Construction neglected to use pressure-treated wood on the joists holding up the balcony and instead installed a composite that was expressly prohibited in the specifications.

Further, the board said the framing and sheathing for the balconies were not adequately protected from rainy weather between construction in October 2005 and waterproofing in August 2006. The area received over 38 inches of rain during that period, according to the accusation document.

Waterproofing products and materials specified did not match what was actually installed on the balcony components, the board alleged.

In April, the CSLB said five contractors involved in the Library Gardens balcony collapse were in “probable violation of law.” In addition to Segue, the companies under investigation were Etter & Sons, waterproofing contractor R. Brothers Waterproofing, plastering contractor Northstate Plastering, and flashing contractor The Energy Store of California.

CSLB did not immediate respond Thursday (Dec. 1) to questions as to whether the subcontractors will face similar revocation or suspension challenges.

No Criminal Charges

The contractor escaped criminal prosecution in the matter in March. However, civil cases brought by families of the victims are pending.

Segue Construction has 15 days from the date of the board’s accusation to officially respond. If it doesn’t, a default license revocation could be issued. The contractor could further attempt to settle the case or request an administrative hearing, according to the authorities.

The Registrar of Contractors makes the final determination.

Segue Construction was unavailable to be reached for comment.

New Law

The tragedy has led to legislation, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, requiring the licensing officials and Building Standards Commission to research how to protect the public from "negligent contractors" and inferior construction.

Reports following the collapse indicated that Segue Construction had faced and settled multi-million dollar lawsuits in connection with waterproofing and resulting property damage on other jobs. The CSLB had not been aware of those cases.

"The new law provides the Contractors State License Board with the tools to take action against bad actors in the construction industry," co-author Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said in a statement.

The new law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2017.


Tagged categories: Building codes; Building envelope; Building Envelope; Contractors; Fatalities; Health and safety; Licensing; Regulations; Residential Construction; Waterproofing

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