When a Deck Collapses, Is Someone to Blame?
Many homes, condominiums, and apartments in the greater Belleville-Metro East area are equipped with decks of various sizes. Decks are great places for people to get together and socialize in warmer weather, and we all have fond memories of attending a barbecue or party on a neighbor’s deck.
Unfortunately, some decks are poorly constructed or maintained, resulting in tragic collapses.
An O’Fallon, Illinois, family recently experienced this trauma on April 11, 2018, while barbecuing after a funeral. Around 15 people were reportedly on the backyard deck when it collapsed, injuring six people—one critically. The victims fell 10 to 12 feet, and their injuries included broken bones and burns.
Fortunately for the family, no one was killed in this deck failure. Unfortunately, deaths are not uncommon in these accidents. According to the North American Deck and Railing Association, at least 30 people were killed in deck collapses in the United States between 2000 and 2008.
The country’s worst deck collapse occurred in Chicago during the summer of 2003. Approximately 50 people were gathered on a deck three stories off the ground when it collapsed. The third floor deck also brought down the two decks below it, resulting in 57 serious injuries and 13 deaths. At first, the city blamed the partygoers for overcrowding the deck—then, the cause of this collapse was determined to be poor construction, building code violations, and it was discovered that a building permit had never been issued for these decks!
It was also later revealed that city inspectors had been to the site five times before and never issued a citation. That shifts the blame considerably. (The building’s owner and the city of Chicago were both sued by surviving victims and their families. Ten years later, they received a $16.6 million settlement.)
Common Causes of Deck Collapses
Common causes of deck collapses include:
- Rotten wood: Most decks are made of wood, a material that is vulnerable to the elements, particularly in the Midwest. Older decks may be weakened by rotting wood and rusted screws and nails. In other cases, the wood may not have been treated or sealed properly, resulting in water damage.
- Termite infestation: Properly treating wood can prevent termite infestation.
- Poor design or construction: Decks are governed by local building codes, just like other structures. A homeowner or contractor may try to save time or money by not building a deck to code.
- Improper or defective materials: This could include using wood that is too weak, or screws and nails that are not long enough or strong enough. It would also include wood that was already rotting when purchased.
- Lack of inspection and maintenance: A building’s owner has an obligation to regularly inspect and perform needed maintenance on his decks and porches.
- Exceeding capacity: Having too many people on a structure at one time, or having items on it that are too heavy to be supported by it, is a recipe for disaster. It’s up to the building’s owner to know and enforce those limits.
Who Can Be Held Liable for a Deck, Porch, or Balcony Collapse?
Depending on the cause of the collapse, a number of parties may be held liable, including:
- The owner of the property
- The property manager
- The party charged with maintaining the structure
- The designer or builder of the structure
- The manufacturer of a defective part used in the structure’s construction
- The entity that sold the flawed or defective part, such as a hardware store or lumber store
- The municipality charged with inspecting the structure
In fact, more than one party may be liable. Most of these people or companies should have insurance coverage to compensate their victims, but you have to know how to ask for it.
Compensation for Losses in a Deck, Porch, or Balcony Collapse
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one in a structure collapse, you may be eligible for compensation for the following losses:
- Current and future medical bills related to your injuries.
- Pain and suffering.
- Permanent injury or disability.
- Scarring and disfigurement.
- Emotional trauma and mental anguish.
- Household and vehicle modifications to accommodate your injuries, such as wheelchair ramps, etc.
- Lost wages.
- Loss of career or earning capacity.
- Property loss.
- Hedonic damages for loss of joy of life.
- Punitive damages.
Only a few weeks ago, a St. Clair County man won a three-year legal battle in the amount of $1.2 million against an apartment complex in Swansea where he fell due to a defective balcony railing and suffered injuries to his spine, head, left leg, and left shoulder. The jurors in this case spread the liability three ways between three property owner/management companies. He received the payment for his medical expenses, pain and suffering, future medical expenses, disfigurement, and loss of a normal life.
Belleville Personal Injury Attorneys
With summer rapidly approaching, more people are going to be hanging out on decks, porches, and balconies. We at Hipskind & McAninch, LLC, urge caution when you venture out onto structures that could possibly collapse. If you or a family member is involved in such a premises liability accident, our Belleville-Metro East area injury attorneys can investigate the incident, determine who the liable parties are, and get to work to get you the compensation you deserve.
Call us at (618) 641-9189 for a free case evaluation. We have experience working for the other side, defending these multi-million dollar property owners and their insurance companies from injury claims, so we know how to get you the best result possible for your unique situation.