No criminal charges in California balcony collapse

A California district attorney announced on March 29 that no criminal charges would be filed in a case involving a balcony collapse at a Berkeley apartment buiding. The accident occurred on June 16, 2015. It injured seven students and killed six.

Both the city of Berkeley and the DA's office have now conducted separate investigations. The DA's office said that it could not bring manslaughter charges due to a lack of evidence that someone acted recklessly or disregarded human life although it did acknowledge that many parties were probably responsible for the conditions that led to the collapse. The investigation found that during construction, water had been trapped in the balcony that resulted in dry rot, and this happened for a variety of reasons including unusually rainy weather during the period it was being built.

The city has since tightened its building codes regarding materials used, access and venting a result of the accident. However, a dozen lawsuits have been filed against the contractor by family members of the students. They allege that the materials used were inferior and water should not have been trapped.

Even though no criminal charges were filed, civil lawsuits in a case like this one may be successful. While the burden of proof for the prosecution in a criminal trial rests on proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, in a civil case it is a preponderance of evidence. This means that the plaintiffs and their attorneys in a premises liability or wrongful death lawsuit must bring evidence that the court or jury finds is more convincing than what the defense presents.

Source: Berkeleyside, "DA Will Not File Criminal Charges in Balcony Collapse Case," Tracey Taylor, March 29, 2016

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