How to Bring a Deck and Balcony Collapse Lawsuit

When a deck or balcony collapses, extremely serious injuries can result. When a person is injured, he or she can file a personal injury lawsuit in order to receive compensation for those injuries.

Premises Liability

Under premises liability law, owners of the property are required to exercise reasonable care to:

  • maintain the property;
  • inspect it;
  • repair any dangerous conditions; and/or
  • give adequate warning of dangerous conditions.

When a deck or balcony collapses, it is very often the result of a failure of reasonable care on the part of the owner.

Personal Injury Lawsuits in Balcony Cases

A personal injury lawsuit may be appropriate when

  • an owner of the property fails to care for a balcony properly;
  • the balcony collapses as a result; and
  • a person suffers injuries also as a result.

Our California personal injury attorneys discuss the following frequently asked questions about deck or balcony collapse lawsuits:

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Like any structure, decks and balconies sometimes fail. The reasons behind that failure can vary, but ultimately it is somebody's responsibility to ensure that these areas are safe for people.

1. Why do balconies and decks collapse?

Like any structure, decks and balconies sometimes fail. The reasons behind that failure can vary, but ultimately it is somebody's responsibility to ensure that these areas are safe for people.

1.1 Construction Defects

When a deck is improperly constructed, it can collapse, causing serious injuries. Both decks and balconies are supported by cantilevers. A cantilever is:

  • a long projecting beam or girder
  • fixed at only one end
  • that supports a structure.1

When a cantilever fails, the structure is often unable to support the weight on top of it, leading to collapse.

Other construction issues could include but are not limited to:

  • improper securing of beams to the underlying structure;
  • failure of the base material under the deck or balcony;
  • use of improper screws or nails;
  • poor quality wood or metal; or
  • improper attachment to the house or building.

1.2 Water Damage

Water damage can significantly affect these structures. Water can cause rot and "dry rot" which weakens the strength of boards. It can also cause metal to rust. As metal rusts, it loses its structural integrity over time.

Water can also cause damage to the structures and beams that support decks and balconies. Without the necessary support, collapse is almost inevitable, and it will lead to serious injury or even death.

1.3 Overcrowding

Decks and especially balconies have weight limits. This means that if there are too many people on it, it will not be able to handle the weight and may collapse.

Businesses especially are required to know the limits their decks and balconies can sustain and ensure that safety is observed at all times. Failure to do so can lead to liability in a personal injury lawsuit.

1.4 Failure of Routine Inspections

Routine inspections are necessary to make sure these structures are safe. Whether this is at a person's private residence or a business, the owner of the balcony or deck is responsible for the safety of others while on the balcony or deck.

2. How often do these types of accidents occur?

Multiple studies have shown that deck and porch collapses are a regular occurrence in the United States. Since 2003, deck collapses have caused thousands of injuries and many deaths throughout the country.2 An estimated 6,500 people have been hospitalized as a result of these accidents and many injuries were fatal.3

While these kinds of accidents are less common than car accidents, they still happen all too frequently. When a person is injured as the result of a collapse, that person is entitled to sue for money damages.

2.1 Examples of Collapses

Berkley, CA Collapse

Balcony collapse in Berkley California led to the death of six people and serious injury to seven in June of 2015. There were allegations that inferior wood was used to construct it. A mutli-million dollar settlement occurred as a result.

Injuries in San Francisco

A married couple in their 50's were injured after a backyard balcony failed in the Outer Sunset District. There was evidence of significant dry rot that likely caused the accident.

Failure in Virginia Beach

First responders were called after a deck failed in Virginia Beach, VA. Sixteen people were on it when it collapsed from the second floor.

Accident in Hartford, Connecticut

Up to 20 people were on a balcony when it suddenly collapsed, toppling from the second floor of a three-family home. 15 people were taken to the hospital as a result. One of the victims was an infant along with other young children and adults.

3. Who is responsible for these kinds of accidents?

Knowing who is responsible for the accident is crucial in preparing for a personal injury lawsuit. Generally speaking, owners of the property have a duty to ensure that decks and balconies are structurally safe and will not cause injuries to their guests. Along with stucco lawsuits, these are one of the more common injury lawsuits involving private homes.

Landlord liability comes into play when a rental property has an unsafe deck. Contractors and builders are also responsible to build the deck or balcony in accordance with regulations and with safety in mind. If not, then they may also be held liable for any injuries that result from their negligence.

3.1 What is premises liability law?

In a premises liability lawsuit, the factual elements of the claim require the plaintiff to prove that he or she was harmed because of the way the defendant managed the property.

Specifically, the plaintiff must prove:

  1. The defendant owned, leased, occupied, or controlled the property;
  2. The defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property;
  3. The plaintiff was harmed; and
  4. The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.4

Example: April is staying at a resort, and there is a balcony attached to her room. As she is sitting eating her breakfast, watching the sunrise, she feels the floor beneath her give way, and she falls to the ground from the third floor. She is severely injured and is hospitalized for 3 months. April can file a lawsuit against the resort owner and anyone else responsible for the care of the balcony.

If you are injured on someone else's property, you can generally sue the individual or company who

  • owns,
  • leases,
  • occupies, or
  • controls the property.

The party responsible does not need to be someone who owns, possesses, and controls the property. Control alone is sufficient for liability.5

3.2 What dangerous conditions do the property owner have to fix or warn others about?

The property owner must use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions. Evidence of whether a property owner knew or should have known about the condition can be shown by:

  • The obviousness of the hazard;
  • Complaints about the dangerous conditions;
  • Amount of time that the dangerous condition existed;
  • Prior injuries caused by the dangerous condition; and
  • Poor attempts to fix the hazard.

Whether a condition is "dangerous" depends on the facts of the case.

3.3 Who else may be responsible?

Other responsible parties include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • business owners;
  • tenants of a property;
  • construction company;
  • inspection company;
  • individuals who caused damage to the structure;
  • homeowners; or
  • landlords.

4. What if the building contractor is responsible for the collapse?

Improper construction is often the reason a deck or balcony fails. When this is the case:

  • the injured person
  • can file a personal injury lawsuit
  • against the building contractor.

When these contractors or companies cut corners to save money, it is often the safety of others they are putting at risk.

4.1 How do I prove a building contractor is responsible for the accident?

Proving that the building contractor was responsible for the accident can be complex, but with experienced legal counsel, it is possible. The case can be proven by:

  • presenting pictures of the shoddy workmanship to the jury;
  • getting an expert report on the cause of the accident;
  • calling an expert to testify as to the cause of the accident and why it was the contractor's fault; and
  • presenting argument and testimony of witnesses to the accident.

5. What damages can I be awarded from my personal injury lawsuit?

Compensatory damages include both economic and non-economic damages. Both can be awarded after a person has successfully proven a personal injury claim resulting from a deck or balcony collapse.

5.1 What are economic damages?

A person's “economic damages” are those to which a dollar amount can easily be attached. They are intended to cover "out-of-pocket" amounts the injured person has actually spent or will be required to spend in the future.

Economic losses often include (but are not limited to):

5.2 What are non-economic damages?

Non-economic damages are those that do not necessarily involve out-of-pocket expenses. They include more subjective losses, such as:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Emotional distress;
  • Physical impairment (such as loss of the use of a limb or organ);
  • Disfigurement;
  • Loss of consortium;
  • Inconvenience; and
  • Loss of life enjoyment.

Call us for help...

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For questions about deck or balcony collapse lawsuits or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at the Shouse Law Group.

We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

Legal References:

  1. Encyclopaedia Britannica: Cantilever  "Cantilever, beam supported at one end and carrying a load at the other end or distributed along the unsupported portion."
  2. Outdoor Deck and Porch Study, Legacy Services LLC.
  3. Chicago Tribune: Estimated 6,500 injured in deck and porch collapses since 2003.
  4. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1000. Premises Liability -- Essential Factual Elements.
  5. Alcaraz v. Vece (1997) 14 Cal.4th 1149, 1162 (“‘Property owners are liable for injuries on land they own, possess, or control.' But . . . the phrase ‘own, possess, or control' is stated in the alternative. A defendant need not own, possess and control property in order to be held liable; control alone is sufficient.”)

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