Company that built collapsed Berkeley balcony has faced multiple legal battles

Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff
Building inspectors examine and prepare to remove the balcony below the one that collapsed.

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The construction company responsible for building a balcony that collapsed in Berkeley on Tuesday morning, resulting in six deaths, has been involved in multiple legal battles for allegedly failing to meet state and local construction codes and providing insufficient waterproofing of breezeways, private balconies and stairwells.

After a fifth-floor balcony of the Library Gardens apartment complex fell, killing six and severely injuring seven, officials have raised serious concerns regarding the structural integrity of the building’s other balconies. Experts who reviewed photos of the collapse said the incident was likely due to dry rot, a product of excessive moisture in the wood. Another balcony at the building has been designated for removal, and two others were tagged for inspection.

Segue Construction Inc., the contractor responsible for constructing the apartment complex, has faced lawsuits in multiple Bay Area counties — including San Mateo and Santa Clara counties — alleging damages caused by water penetration, and settled in both cases.

A complaint filed in San Jose in 2010 by the Irvine Company LLC, obtained by KTVU News, alleged that Segue’s architectural plans fell short of meeting state and local codes and regulations. The lawsuit also alleged fault on the part of contractors affiliated with Segue. The plaintiff claimed that Segue failed to construct and properly waterproof the breezeways, private balconies and stairwells in accordance with the original contract and state regulations. Segue ultimately agreed to a settlement, according to KTVU.

“Litigation over balconies and water intrusion in San Jose has no bearing on this tragedy,” Segue said in a statement. “Such construction defect litigation is common to major construction projects.”

UC Berkeley School of Law professor Mark Gergen also said that there is an enormous number of construction litigation claims, although he said the central focus of future investigations will likely concern the degree to which the company is responsible for taking precautions against damages.

In 2011, Segue  — the general contractor of the Park Broadway condominium in Millbrae — was also involved in a lawsuit filed by the Park Broadway Millbrae Homeowners Association one year after construction was complete. The homeowners association alleged that the company did not disclose construction defects discovered during Segue’s inspections, including those of the waterproofing systems. The lawsuit was settled for $3.5 million in damages in 2013.

“When we conducted our initial investigation, we found large amounts of dry rot and even black mold,” said Rachel Miller, an attorney with the Miller Law Firm, which defended the homeowners association. “What could’ve been done to prevent this is by simply using the standards to waterproof the components. … Our experts found that just was not done.”

In a more recent case, filed in July 2013, Trestle Glen Associates alleged defective design of its property in Colma, California, as well as the use of defective materials during construction. According to the complaint, these deficiencies contributed to “water intrusion causing tangible property damage.” The case has yet to be resolved.

Additionally, Segue has been found responsible for 12 violations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, since 2006. All were relatively minor complaints, except for one 2013 violation that was deemed “serious” and resulted in a $4,050 fine.

Contact Trevor Greenan, Ariel Hayat and Andrea Platten at [email protected].

A previous version of this article may have implied that Segue Construction paid $3.5 million in damages in a settlement involving the Park Broadway Millbrae Homeowners Association. In fact, Segue Construction did not pay the settlement, although it was involved in the lawsuit.