Berkeley Balcony Collapse Prompts More Regulations

California Connection
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Two lawmakers who want to tighten down on contractors who violate building codes got more ammunition for their cause after holding a hearing on the balcony collapse in Berkeley last year.

Senator Jerry Hill, chair of the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development heard witnesses say that other regulatory bodies routinely look at lawsuit settlements to examine if members are violating professional practices.

But the Contractors State License Board does not have that ability.

An investigation showed that the contractor who built the apartment building where six students were killed and seven others injured paid out $26 million in settlements over the previous three years after being sued for shoddy construction practices.

"If we were to receive this civil settlement information, that could trigger an investigation," said David Fogt, enforcement chief of the board.

Contractors groups say examining civil settlements would unfairly target contractors who routinely settle cases out of court rather than pay huge legal fees for defending frivolous lawsuits.

"For every dollar we pay to the plaintiff we spend $4 to $23 defending the action proving that there's nothing wrong with the house (that was built)," said Nick Cammoarota, legal counsel for the California Building Industry Association.

Others say ways can be found to target legal actions that involve life and death construction issues rather that nuisance suits.

The issue is being followed in Ireland, the home country of nearly all the victims. A family member of a victim attended the hearing as well as Phillip Grant, the counsel general of Ireland.

"It is in everybody's best interests to see the necessary changes are we can make sure that we can prevent such a needless tragedy from happening again," said Grant.

Hill and fellow Senator Loni Hancock who represents Berkeley have authored a bill that requires contractors to report settlements to the State Contractors License Board.

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