Rash of Summer Deck and Balcony Collapses Continues

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Recently deck, porch, and terrace collapses have been hot topics in the news. Unfortunately, and all too often, the motivation for the media coverage and hype over the issue are recent deck collapse tragedies. Only after tragedy has struck do we take a more comprehensive approach to safety and consider not only that a risk does exist, but also the specific factors and dangers that can potentially exist.

While many may work to address the potential risks presented by popular consumer products after they become known, others may delay action “until next season” or rationalize that they’ll be able to “get one more year out of it.” The fact of the matter is that structures like decks, balconies, and terraces require regular maintenance and inspection if they are to remain in a safe and non-defective condition. Property owners like homeowners, business owners, and others must maintain their buildings and attached structures or the risk of structural failure and severe injuries is increased.

2 in Critical Condition after Nearly 30-Year-Old Deck Plummets to the Ground

Over the Fourth of July weekend, family members gathered at an Emerald Isle, South Carolina rental home. According to reports, the family was in the process of posing for a group photo on the rental home’s rear deck. According to an AP report, during the set-up for the photo, the nails that affixed the deck to the home gave way. A statement issued by the Emerald Isle Town Manager reflects the belief that the deck was up to code when it was erected in 1986, but the weight of 24 individuals was simply too much for the deck’s nearly 30-year-old nails to hold. Authorities reached this conclusion, in part, because roughly two-thirds of the deck did not collapse and the pilings did not fail.

Emerald Isle Fire Chief Bill Walker remarked that this was the first deck collapse incident the community has dealt with in more than a decade. He also estimated that the section of deck that failed was roughly 12 feet by 12 feet. The section was elevated roughly10 to 12 feet above the ground.

Authorities released additional findings on Sunday afternoon. These findings included the fact that, as constructed, the deck met the requirements set forth in the structural code. The preliminary official cause for the collapse is that “floor joists and deck boards simply collapsed due to deteriorated fasteners (nails).” Officials stated that there were no previous complaints on record for the rental home where the accident occurred.

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Severe Injuries Reported After the Collapse

Officials revealed that 24 people were injured in the collapse. One of those injured was a young child while the oldest injury victim is 94 years-old. Many of the less severe injuries included bruises, cuts, and scrapes. However, all were not fortunate to escape with only minor injuries. As of Sunday evening individuals remained under care at Vidant Medical Center and at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Of the five individuals still receiving care, two remained in critical condition.

One eyewitness reported particularly severe injuries. He while working to help the victims, he recalls the he “Had a bone sticking out of one elderly lady’s elbow and I think she had another bone sticking out somewhere else. Had a guy that had a fracture in his ankle. His bone was out.” Others were suspected of sustaining traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

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The Most Common Causes of Deck Collapses

While it can be difficult or impossible to avoid dangerous situations without an awareness of potential risks and hazards, education can help people identify problems and take appropriate corrective action. Common construction or maintenance concerns for decks, porches, and balconies includes:

  • Use of nails rather than appropriate fasteners – Decks that are simply nailed into the house, building or other structure are significantly more likely to collapse. Nails are smooth fasteners that can pull away very easily. Appropriate screws, bolt, or other fasteners should be used to attach a deck according to Code.
  • Rotted wood or deteriorated fasteners, insufficient maintenance – Even a properly constructed deck can become unsafe if regular inspections are not undertaken. Inspections that reveal problems or safety concerns should be followed with timely repairs or other corrective action.   
  • Overloaded deck —  An overloaded deck can exacerbate already existing problems with the deck’s construction or other problems due to wear and tear. Even a properly constructed deck can become unsafe if it is overloaded beyond the capacity it is rated to hold.
  • DIY modifications – Individuals who modify their deck or add-on the structure should ensure that the changes they plan to make does not weaken the deck. People who attempt to “repair”
    the deck with insufficient equipment or materials run the risk of making the structure less safe.

The above represent only a few of the more common reasons that contribute to deck, balcony, and porch collapses. Many other risks and hazards exists. Property owners should have their deck inspected by trained professionals at least once each year otherwise users of the deck face an unnecessarily increased risk of life-altering injury due to structural failure.

Injured in a Deck or Porch Collapse?

If you or a loved one have suffered a serious injury in a deck or porch collapse, the personal injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm may be able to fight for you. To schedule a free and confidential legal consultation call us at (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.

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