Every year, hundreds of thousands of people will be catastrophically injured or killed due to the collapse of a balcony, porch, deck, or railing. In warm weather, a balcony or deck is likely to become a gathering spot for friends and guests during parties or barbecues. However, many balconies and porches are in use year-round in cities like Philadelphia. Even in the cold of wintertime, decks and balconies can serve as spillover space during a party or as a convenient place for smokers to gather.
Unfortunately, many porches, balconies, decks, and railing structures are inadequately designed, engineered, or constructed. Other decks and similar structures are frequently improperly maintained allowing for rot and other stages of deterioration to set in. Working alone or in tandem with several defects, these problems can result in a catastrophic failure due to its inability to support the weight it is rated to hold. Still, other collapses are caused by overcrowding and an excessive number of individuals on the deck.
What Are Common Reasons for Porch and Balcony Collapses in Philadelphia?
As set forth briefly above, there are numerous causes that can contribute to the conditions that make a deck collapse possible. One major cause of deck collapses involved improper maintenance. Like all structures, decks and porches are subject to the elements and thus undergo wear and tear. The hot summers and cold icy winters that are common in Philadelphia can prematurely age structures so that they cannot hold the weight they are rated to support.
For one, water is particularly likely to cause problems if not addressed in a timely manner. Water can cause wood to warp and weaken. Even if the structure was treated with a synthetic material to seal out water, there are numerous problems with these types of sealants. For one particular type of sealant, water can actually seep into the structure in the form of humidity and water vapor. However, the seal is made in such a way that this moisture cannot escape. Over time, the water can cause the building materials to weaken and eventually fail.
Structural weakness due to water damage is particularly dangerous when a balcony or deck is overloaded. Typically, as a wooden deck gets older, there is a breakdown in the material. This breakdown and weakening process is exacerbated when the building material is not properly treated or maintained. In fact, this set of factors directly contributed to the tragic Berkley balcony collapse that killed six college students and injured seven more.
Porch and Balcony Injuries Can Be Significant
Each year, our skilled Philadelphia accident lawyers learn of balcony falls, railing collapses, and material failures. Many times during spring break and the holiday season, falls are fueled by alcohol and other improper behavior and crowd overloading on the deck. Just recently, we received an inquiry from an individual who fell due to a railing collapse at a South Jersey motel and suffered catastrophic injuries. A landlord or hotel operator or possessor of property owes a duty to make sure that one’s premises are safe and that the balcony and railing are installed and maintained in accordance with appropriate codes ensuring one’s safety. This requires a regular inspection and maintenance program. Many times, balconies and porches are erected in violation of local codes and regulations. Obviously, this presents a hazard if rules and regulations are not followed. A balcony railing must be at least 42 inches high and have no more than 4 inches of space between the rails and must always be maintained in proper safe and secure order.
When a balcony or porch fails, generally the resulting injuries are not insignificant. Victims can fall and be buried under debris and often catastrophic injuries such as broken bones, spinal injuries, paraesthesia, quadriplegia, brain injuries, and closed head trauma can result. Injuries to the skull, neck, and legs are exceedingly common. Aside from worries that the fall alone will cause significant bodily harm,
Are Certain Balconies More Prone to a Collapse?
Surveys indicate that there are millions upon millions of wooden decks in the United States. A significant portion of these decks was built decades ago and are over 25 years old. Decks that are exposed to the elements for more than two decades often have serious problems. Many such decks or balconies are accidents waiting to happen.
Furthermore, decks that were installed by the homeowner or another layperson have a higher than average likelihood of carrying a serious structural or another defect. Decks installed or repaired by laypeople may use nails instead of adequate screws or, ideally, fasteners designed specifically to affix a deck to a structure. When nails are used instead of screws or fasteners, the nails can slip. When some or all the nails slip, the deck will collapse and its occupants will plummet to the ground. This risk is significantly reduced or eliminated when proper fasteners are utilized.
Experienced Deck Collapse and Personal Injury Lawyers in Philadelphia
When a balcony, deck, porch, or railing collapses, specialized skill and knowledge of the law are required. Most deck, porch, and railing collapse cases involve theories of negligence, premises liability, product liability, and construction law. The experienced Pennsylvania premises liability lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm understand that when most people step on a deck, porch, or balcony, they assume it is safe to support their weight and that the railing or guard system is safe as well. We can contrast your reasonable assumption of safety against the defects that existed in a way that is clear and easy for a jury to understand.
The experienced Pennsylvania defective balcony lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm have had significant experience with a successful track record representing those who were injured as a result of porch collapses, balcony collapses, porch falls, railing failures, or other premises liability situations at hotels, homes, condominiums, apartments, or on the premises of another.
Contact us toll-free at (215) 246-9000 or online for a free, no-obligation legal consultation. We promise we will never charge a fee unless we make a successful recovery on your behalf.