Subject: Stair/Balcony Construction Analysis
Client: Matthew J. Speredelozzi, Esq, San Diego, CA
Expert: Stephen Wilson, Xpera Building Envelope Group
Since Xpera’s founding in 2009, our team of forensic construction experts has been called upon for more than 3,000 assignments. Typically, these are common construction claims associated with standard of care, delays or construction defect litigation. Recently, however, our specialized construction expertise proved invaluable in an unusual situation for us—a criminal defense case.
We were contacted by Matthew Speredelozzi, a San Diego-based criminal defense attorney, whose client was facing serious criminal charges associated with the failure of an apartment balcony and stairway structure that resulted in near-fatal injuries to the victim.
Xpera’s building envelope and general contracting expert, Stephen Wilson, was asked to render his opinions on the general condition, construction and structural integrity of the building’s rear stairs and balcony, including identifying any construction deficiencies and building code violations that may have contributed to the ultimate balcony failure.
With over 37 years of industry experience, Wilson has a thorough knowledge of construction practices with a special emphasis on the building envelope as it relates to defect investigation. He has been designated in over 300 construction litigation disputes as an expert witness, making him ideally qualified for this unique assignment.
“The prosecution was alleging that my client pushed the victim off the balcony on purpose,” said Speredelozzi. “Stephen was able to show that the balcony was unsafe. His report showed that the balcony railing could not hold sufficient weight and was not up to code. This, in turn, showed that it was not the force of the push that likely caused the victim’s fall, but rather the poor maintenance of the property. Based on this, the District Attorney agreed to reduce the charges and allow my client a no-jail resolution. My client was facing a double-digit prison sentence before Stephen got involved.”
Wilson and Speredelozzi conducted a site inspection of the property and then visited the San Diego Police Department’s Property and Evidence Unit to inspect the physical pieces of the failed wood balcony structure. Next, Wilson conducted thorough research of building records and permits, as well as relevant sections of the building codes and specifications pertaining to the property.
In the end, Wilson identified more than a dozen critical problems with the property, including violations to building and housing code standards as well as a failure to keep the rented property in a “habitable condition” for tenants’ health and safety.
“This was an intriguing case involving a historical structure by celebrated architect Irving Gill,” said Wilson. “We determined the stairway involved in the incident was not part of the original design, but was added later with sub-standard workmanship and without the required permits. There was no record of inspection and it didn’t meet the minimum Code requirements from 75 years ago, let alone today’s standards. The resulting structural failure was compounded by the negligence of the property managers, insurance company inspectors, and the property owners, who failed to identify the defective conditions and to make the repairs required for the tenants’ health and safety. I was pleased to lend my expertise to the case and I’m glad it worked out for my client.”
“Your work on the case was outstanding,” added Speredelozzi. “We did a lot of looking before finding the right expert match for this case. The report you wrote was crucial in us brokering the deal with the District Attorney. This is a big win for our team and you were instrumental. Thank you for your hard work.”