A 17 storey apartment building in Taiwan collapsed over the weekend following a strong earthquake. Dozens were killed, and dozens more remain trapped in the debris. In the wake of the tragedy, the developer and architects of the building, which was constructed in 1989, have been arrested on suspicion of criminal business misconduct resulting in fatalities.
The Taiwanese authorities’ approach is unusual in light of New Zealand experience. The police investigation into the collapse of the CTV building in Christchurch’s February 2011 earthquake is still ongoing, and the police are yet to make any decisions about criminal culpability. The swift arrest and detention in Taiwan does appear in part to be due to the developer’s chequered past – he is alleged to have a history of vanishing and legally changing his name following dodgy deals, and re-emerging with new business ventures.
Building claims are often complex, and it can be difficult to isolate responsibility for defects. It is unclear how long the developer and architects can be detained without bail while this investigation is ongoing. However, the defects in this case may be more easily identifiable than those in Christchurch – the apartment building was the only one felled by the quake in Taiwan, responsible for the vast majority of deaths, and is alleged to have significant structural failings. Witnesses have allegedly spotted cooking oil cans used as a building material, packed inside wall cavities exposed by the damage.