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Berkeley Balcony Collapse Hearing In Sacramento Focuses On Contractors

SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) -- A State Senate subcommittee took up the issue of the deadly Berkeley balcony collapse that claimed six lives last June.

"It's unfortunate that so often it takes a tragedy to expose potential problems," State Senator Jerry Hill said.

The discussion focused on one shocking fact.

"Segue Construction Company had a history of questionable work, and in previous years had paid out $26.5 million in construction defect settlements," Hill said.

Segue is accused of shoddy construction that resulted in the balcony's failure.  But, unlike architects or engineers, contractors are not required to report lawsuit settlements to the board that regulates them.  Senators Jerry Hill and Loni Hancock have introduced a bill that would force certain civil settlements to be reported to the Contractors State License Board.

"What it would generally trigger is an investigation into determining if that contractor is complying with building code requirements," David Vogt, Chief of Enforcement for the Contractors State License Board said.

But, the building industry says lawsuits are not an accurate way to determine craftsmanship.

"Civil settlements aren't necessarily a symptom of faulty work.  They're symptoms of an extraordinarily litigious state…and very litigious in this area of the law," Todd Bloomstine of the Southern California Contractors Association said.

They say there are so many settlements – 50,000 to 100,000 each year, that relying on that to find substandard builders would be searching for a needle in a haystack.

"I don't see how, on a statewide basis, they can reasonably investigate that, and certainly not with staff that they have now," Nick Cammarota, General Counsel for the California Building Industry Association said.

Nevertheless, lawmakers say how much a builder pays in settlements may not be evidence of fault, but it probably shouldn't be ignored, either.

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