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6.7 Northridge Earthquake, 16 Death Cases...

As "Lead Attorney" for the plaintiffs in the Northridge Meadows lawsuit, Joel Castro led the fight for people who had lost loved ones and property in the terrible tragedy. "We're trying to recover for folks who have had the worst loss known to man." (Daily Journal, 1994)

He obtained an injunction against demolition until his experts could perform a full failure analysis and his clients could retrieve possessions from the quake site. The controlled demolition that followed has been widely recognized as setting a new standard for invasive inspections and photo documentation.

His advanced analysis of the causes of the collapse was widely reported in state and national periodicals, and it forced cities to rewrite their building codes. He twice addressed the California Seismic Commission, providing recommendations to improve construction and avoid future tragedies.

He was the only attorney invited to address the California State Seismic Safety Commission, providing them with the findings of his construction defect failure analysis. Many of his suggestions were adopted.

In January of 1995, he presented a seminar on "Aftershocks: What Litigators and Real Estate Attorneys Need to Know About the Northridge Earthquake" for the LA County Bar.

As a leading source of legal information related to seismic safety, he has frequently been contacted in the aftermath of the Northridge Earthquake by the Los Angeles Times, the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Magazine.

At the request of Pepperdine University and the Sheriffs' Disaster Communications Service, he presented a Seismic Failure Seminar demonstrating failure modes from the Northridge Earthquake and presenting recommendations for preserving life and property in future earthquakes.

He participated with CUREe, Stanford, Berkeley, and SAC engineers in the investigation and analysis of steel moment frame failures in the Northridge Earthquake. As a result, new codes were written.
6.5 San Simeon Earthquake, 2 Death Cases...

December 22, 2003 the San Simeon Earthquake hit.  Parents of Jenna Myrick and husband and daughter of Marilyn Zafuto sued Acorn building owners for negligence in failing to perform seismic retrofitting of the building. 

The jury found the Mastagni owners negligent and awarded damages.  The owners were held to be members of a joint venture in  ownership/maintenance of the building. 

Defendants argued they had no duty to retrofit the building until 2018, the deadline established by city ordinance. 

Between 1989 and 1992, the city prepared an inventory of URM’s within its jurisdiction, per Govt. Code  §8875.2(a).  The Code requires building departments to identify buildings that are potentially hazardous during an earthquake.  One of the buildings the city identified as potentially hazardous was the Acorn Building.  Notice was sent to the building's owners in December 1989.  14 years later, the San Simeon Earthquake occurred on December 22, 2003.

The basic rule of tort liability for property owners is that an owner must use ordinary care in the management of property to prevent injury to others. (Civil Code §1714.)

The test is whether an owner has acted as a reasonable person in view of the probability of injury. Rowland v Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108,119.  Generally courts have not looked favorably on the use of statutory compliance as a defense to tort liability. (Ramirez v. Plough, Inc. (1993) 6 Cal.4th 539, 547).  That is because a statute, ordinance or regulation ordinarily defines a minimum standard of conduct. (Id. at p. 548.)

The overriding policy behind the seismic retrofit ordinance, is not the promotion of the interests of building owners, but instead, the overriding policy is public safety.  “The purpose of this chapter is to promote public safety and welfare by reducing the risk of death or injury that may result from the effects of earthquakes on existing unreinforced masonry bearing wall buildings.” Former section 17.18.010 of the El Paso de Robles Municipal Code.  To hold as a matter of law a building owner has no duty until after the compliance date of a code provision would frustrate the very policy that the provision was designed to promote.

“Before giving possession of leased property to a tenant, a landlord must conduct a reasonable inspection of the property for unsafe conditions and correct any such condition discovered in that process.  The inspection must include common areas under the landlord’s control.  After a tenant has taken possession, a landlord must use reasonable care to correct an unsafe condition under the landlord’s control if the landlord knows or reasonably should have known about it.”  CACI Jury Instruction 1006, Landlord’s Duty, 2007 edition.
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