Builder, council liable for balcony collapse
Court win: Geoff Dunmall in front of the house where the balcony collapsed. Picture: The West Australian

A builder and a council are both facing a potentially massive compensation bill after they were ruled liable for a balcony collapse at a New Year's Eve party that left one man fighting for life, and then battling one of his best friends in court.

Ten years after the near tragedy that left Geoff Dunmall seriously injured, a District Court judge has ruled that the builder of the house in South Yunderup and the Shire of Murray are liable for compensation.

But the party's host, Mr Dunmall's neighbour Marie O'Sullivan, has been cleared of any liability by Judge Patrick O'Neal, who said she had not breached her duty of care - and should have not been expected to have the balcony regularly inspected by a structural engineer.

Instead, the judge blamed the local authority that approved a design of the balcony that failed to meet structural standards, and builder Terry Walsh.

The judge said the builder further compromised the safety of the balcony, which was built in about 1983, by building the structure with bolts too small and that lacked corrosion resistance.

"Whether as designed, or as built, the balcony did not come close to meeting the applicable design standards at the time or the more relaxed current standards," Judge O'Neal said.

The court was told the balcony as designed at the prestigious property should have borne the weight of 50 people. But it took just three to bring it crashing to the ground that evening in 2004.

"What is significant about the balcony … is not that it failed when it did, but that it survived as long as it did," Judge O'Neal said. "In the course, of or as a consequence of the collapse, rusted bolts sheared off, rotted timber split and in some places remnant boltheads pulled through rotted timber."

Mr Dunmall counts himself lucky to be alive. He needed three plates in his ankle. A female guest was bleeding from the head and injured her hands as she tried to grab a railing mid-fall.

A ruling on the share and amount of compensation will be made at a later date.

The West Australian

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