Who is legally responsible if a building collapses during a quake?

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A recent analysis by the Los Angeles Times found there could be more than 1000 concrete buildings countywide at risk of collapse during a major earthquake.

These structures often look sturdy, but many lack steel reinforcements that would help keep them from buckling during intense shaking.

RELATED: LA officials consider incentives for seismic upgrades to buildings 

The Times' report looked in-depth at nearly 70 vulnerable residential and commercial buildings, like the one Raul Vasquez works in on the 3300 block of Wilshire Boulevard.

"Oh wow, that's scary," Vasquez  said when he learned about the risk to his workplace.

His 12-story office tower is one of more than a dozen at-risk structures on Wilshire near downtown. Trent Nall lives in a luxury apartment building also on the Times' list.

"I know the risks," Nall said. "If you don't like it, you can move out."

For his part, Nall isn't planning on moving, and he hopes the city doesn't mandate a pricey retrofit that could raise his rent.

Still, property owners might end up legally responsible if their buildings collapse during a quake, says USC law professor Jody Armour.

"The touchstone of liability in civil actions and tort actions is foreseeability," he explained.

According to Armour, if property owners can foresee that a retrofit would prevent serious injury and still don't do that retrofit , a jury may deem them legally responsible for damages.

However, it remains unclear if landing on the Times' list of seismically at-risk buildings counts as evidence that a collapse was foreseeable or whether property owners might be shielded from litigation if their buildings met safety codes in place at the time of construction.

One thing seismologists say is for sure is that L.A. is overdue for a major quake and people should take that risk seriously.

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