When a deck or balcony collapses, the results can be serious for those on or underneath the structure. Each year, 550 people are sent to trauma centers and another 3 die from balcony, deck, or porch collapses. In most cases, the collapse comes from a flaw in the construction or design of the structure which causes it to fail.
In most collapses, the event is precipitated by a heavy load due to some event like a birthday party or some other celebration. The added weight can push the already flawed structure past its limit and then collapse.
Group v. Individual Injuries
Because of the added weight, many collapses involve the injury of several people. This makes sense because it is likely that it was the group of people that added weight to the structure in the first place. Other times, lesser numbers of people are involved and it just turns out to be a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
In many of these collapses, the victims were under an empty structure when it fell or just happened to be on the structure alone when it decided to give way.
Causes of Collapsing Decks and Balconies
The single biggest cause of a deck, porch, or balcony structure is poor maintenance. Both metal and wooden structures need to be checked periodically, especially after the five-year mark. The culprit in most collapses is water. Water will seep in the structure—especially at the supports and where the structure is fixed to the building.
Water can cause wood to dry rot and metal to rust. In most cases, an inspection can spot these problems and repairs can keep the structure in good shape for years.
Another problem is a poor or defective design. For example, when a deck is attached to a house, the lag bolts need to go into the structure of the house—beams, studs, joists—and not just into the siding. If this is designed that way, then over time the deck will pull away from the house or building and possibly collapse.
Liability for Collapsing Structures
The owner of the building and land where the collapsed deck was is liable for all injuries that came from the collapse so long as the owner was negligent. When it comes to proving negligence by the owner, the devil is often in the details.
The area of law is called premises liability and it means that the owner of a property has a duty to keep their space reasonably free from dangerous hazards that might harm someone. This duty is to anyone who is lawfully on the property such as invited guests, workers, business guests, and anyone who has a legal reason to be on the property.
Making a Premises Liability Claim
If you’ve been injured in a structure collapse you might feel that someone has to pay for your injuries because it wasn’t your fault. While this seems right, if the claim isn’t made properly, then the owner might not have any legal liability.
At Crary, Clark, Domanico, & Chuang, P.S., we know how to make a premises liability claim stick and to legally require the building or landowner to pay for your injuries. To do this, it’s our job to prove the following:
- That the victim was lawfully on the property
- That the owner had a duty to keep their premises free from dangerous hazards
- That the owner failed in that duty by:
- Negligently building or repairing the structure, or
- Failing to fix a structure known to be hazardous, or
- Failing to inspect the structure in a reasonable time and manner.
Once these are established, then the owner of the property is legally obligated to compensate the injured victims for their losses.
Deck and Balcony Collapse Injuries
The number one injury in a balcony, porch or deck collapse is a broken bone. The victim will usually fall one or more stories, and then impact the ground only to be hit by falling debris or even other victims. Over the years, we’ve seen some common types of injuries that come from a collapse accident:
- Broken Arms/Legs
- Broken/Displaced Ribs
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Broken Skull
- Fractured Facial Bones
- Spinal Cord Injuries
- Deep Laceration
- Severe Bruises
If any of these injuries—or others—have happened to you because the balcony or deck you were on collapsed, don’t assume that the owner will just pay your damages. In most cases, the money will come from an insurance company that might deny you compensation hoping that the claim you made will be defective or fall short of creating liability.
So even if the owner is your friend or wants the insurance company to pay for your injuries, it may not happen that way. That’s when you need professional help from a law firm that knows how to hold the owner responsible so the insurance company will be bound by their contract to pay for your damages.
Contact a Spokane Premises Liability Lawyer.
Established in Spokane in 1948, Crary, Clark, Domanico, & Chuang, P.S. is committed to providing our clients with the absolute highest quality legal representation. If our Premises Liability Lawyers represent you for your accident case, you have our assurance that we will use our absolute best efforts to win your case. Contact us after any accident resulting in a serious injury for a free, confidential consultation and case evaluation. We will only offer you advice which is in your best interest.