The basis for much of civil law rests upon the question of what is reasonable. Reasonableness in its varying forms and expressions lends itself to predictability and to safety; its absence can lead to things that should not happen.

Most readers of this blog will be aware of the recent tragic event in Berkeley, where six people died and several others were injured, some of them seriously, when a fourth-floor balcony on which they were standing suddenly collapsed. In the aftermath of an incident of this nature, investigations surely follow to understand exactly what happened, the events that led up to it and may have contributed to it, and to draw lessons so that the risk of something like it happening again are minimized.

Causation of an accident of this kind must consider multiple possibilities: how old was the structure? How was the balcony constructed? How was it maintained? What was its load bearing capacity? Was it required to undergo any safety inspections, and if so by whom? Were such inspections performed? What were the results, if any, of those inspections? Questions like these and many others will lead to still more questions; eventually individuals, companies and even government agencies will need to be examined to see if something could have been done differently that might have prevented such a terrible outcome.

Such an investigation is already underway in the Berkeley incident, and at this early stage of their progress it is perhaps too early to speculate as to what the investigators will find and what their conclusions will be. But it is clear that in ordinary, reasonable, circumstances, a balcony should not suddenly fall out from under those standing on it. Absent that which is reasonable, at some point the question of possible negligence will also become an issue to be explored.

Source: Contra Costa Times, “Five Irish citizens among 6 killed in Berkeley balcony collapse,” Harry Harris, Natalie Alund, Rick Hurd, June 16, 2015

Secondary Source: The Irish Times, “Berkeley deaths: Six Irish students who died when balcony collapsed have been named,” Simon Carswell, June 17, 2015