What to Do if You Are Injured in a Deck Collapse
Wooden Decks in Pennsylvania act as an additional space in your home to relax, celebrate a special occasion, or enjoy a beautiful day. However, different from other areas of a house, decks are subject to heavy weather exposure. Throughout the year, decks must resist rain, wind, heat, and snow. Moreover, decks must be sturdily built to avoid collapsing. The Philadelphia premises liability lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm explain common causes of deck collapses in Philadelphia and possible outcomes of a deck collapse accident.
If you are building a deck for your home or your home came equipped with a deck, you should always be aware of the stability of this structure. As a deck is attached to your home, a collapse or serious damage to the deck could result in serious injury and damage to your property. If you were injured in a deck collapse due to a negligent property owner, you should contact an experienced Philadelphia deck collapse lawyer today. The Reiff Law Firm is here to offer you the legal representation that you deserve to pursue a property owner for your injuries. Our firm is here to explain the various reasons that could cause a deck to collapse.
When constructed properly, a deck is an enjoyable space to gather with family and friends to perform activities and enjoy the weather. When a deck is built poorly, there is a constant threat to homeowners and any other individual that dare to walk on or under its surface. The following is a list of common causes of deck collapses that could lead to a premises liability lawsuit.
What Are the Main Causes of a Deck Collapse?
Deck collapses can happen for numerous reasons, especially when it comes to an old deck. Some of the leading causes of deck collapses include the following:
To begin with, decks may be improperly installed by a contractor. Depending on the type of deck or balcony, the foundation may be insufficient. The failure of a foundation can cause even a deck that is properly attached to the house or other structure to be torn away. Similarly, contractors that only use nails to attach a deck to the ledger board greatly increase the risk of a failure. For decks installed in this fashion, screws or special brackets should be used to secure the deck. Likewise, using only nails to secure joist hangers is also inviting trouble.
The foundation is arguably the most critical part of any construction. A solid foundation can make a deck last for a long time without breaking. On the other hand, an improvised, poorly-made foundation can increase the chances of a collapse. Beams and posts should be properly aligned and firmly sealed under concrete. Keep in mind that things like wind and gravity exert pressure on the deck over time. Therefore, when a deck’s foundation is not built following today’s standards, they could collapse.
When building a deck, it is vital that you build a foundation that can support the weight that will be placed on the structure. Placing the beams of a deck into bare soil or gravel can result in the structure being too weak to support a substantial amount of weight.
Concrete pads are typically used when placing the support beams for a deck into the ground. However, it is also possible for a deck to collapse if the beams are placed into concrete pads that are too small and could become worn down quickly. If every other portion of a deck is constructed perfectly, but the deck has a weak foundation, this could easily cause a deck to collapse under pressure and cause an unsuspecting person to suffer a severe bone fracture and other injuries.
To ensure a deck’s structural integrity, you must continuously monitor its foundation to ensure safety use. Additionally, you can always consult with a professional contractor who can assess the structure’s foundation.
Another essential part of a deck’s construction is flashing the ledgers. In many deck constructions, ledgers must be flashed before attaching them to prevent moisture. Most decks are primarily composed of wood, meaning it is important to use the proper wood and to ensure that it is made resistant to moisture caused by varying weather patterns. You should routinely inspect your deck to ensure that rotting boards are replaced immediately.
Remember decks have to withstand rain during the year, and if moisture accumulates on the ledgers or planks, they can rot over time. A rotted plank or ledger can compromise the deck’s safety and cause injuries to unsuspecting visitors. Additionally, wooden decks need constant care since they will be exposed to mother nature’s elements throughout the year. It is always important to take to keep an eye on every beam, ledger, and plank to identify and fix any possible rot.
Another issue is an infestation of termites that could attack the wooden structure. Termites consume wood from the inside-out, meaning you may not know about the existence of these insects until it is too late. If you often store piles of wood near the exterior of your home, you should consider having your home and your deck inspected for termites.
There are many other causes of deck failure that are not listed above. If you were injured because a negligent property owner failed to maintain their deck or a person sold you a home with a defective deck that injured you, you should consider filing a personal injury lawsuit.
A ledger board is a wooden board that is positioned horizontally to connect to the house and the floor joists. Most decks are not constructed as free-standing from a residential property. As a result, you will need a ledger board to connect the deck to the home for additional support.
Many of today’s deck construction standards require the deck’s ledger to be safely attached to the main property via particular brackets, joists, or connectors. However, many older constructions were only connected to the central unit (house) with nails alone. These older deck units require specially dedicated attention since they could be at especially high risk of collapsing.
If a homeowner does not properly install a ledger board to the side of their house, this can result in the board detaching from the house and the joists, causing the deck to collapse. Another possibility is that maintenance of the ledger board was neglected, and the board eventually deteriorated and caused a collapse.
Joists are supposed to provide support for all the decking. When joists are not measured correctly or they rot, it may cause accidents that can lead to severe injuries. Particular attention to joists is required to ensure the deck’s structure will be safe to stand on. If you spot signs of rot on the deck’s joists, you should correct them immediately to prevent further damage to the structure and avoid any possible injury accident.
Beams are placed upright into the ground and horizontally across certain areas of a deck to support the weight that will be placed on top of them. Many beams are constructed of wood or some form of durable metal. When constructing a deck, you must ensure that you choose undamaged beams that will stand the test of time and weather.
If a wooden or metal beam is not strong enough to support the weight placed on it, they may begin to splinter or bend. If this occurs suddenly or the homeowner does not catch this defect in time, their deck may collapse when they least expect it. As these beams hold up the rest of the deck, replacing or repairing them once they are damaged can be a dangerous task.
Weather is arguably a deck’s most formidable enemy. Decks are always at the mercy of nature’s elements as seasons change. Rain, excess heat and snow can still cause problems for decks, despite new, modern construction techniques. Therefore, it is always wise to keep regularly checking and correcting any issues your deck may present.
Similarly, improper maintenance can weaken the fasteners that hold the deck in place. Decks and balconies are exposed to the weather elements year-round. Particular aspects of your climate may accelerate the wear and tear on your deck and necessitate constant vigilance and early maintenance. Particularly, those with decks close to the shore where salt spray may corrode metal and weather wood more quickly, special care should be taken. Likewise, if your area is affected by frequent high winds, substantial snowfall, or even a humid climate all of these factors may cause a deck to weather more quickly and increase the odds of a catastrophic failure.
Common Injuries in Deck Collapse Accidents
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)
Head injuries can be severe and sometimes life-threatening. During a deck collapse, a falling object or a trip and fall accident can cause a person to hit their head. A massive blow to the head area can cause TBI. People experiencing brain injuries are likely to suffer from memory loss, concussions, and contusions. In more severe situations traumatic brain injury can cause death.
Cuts and Lacerations
Puncture wounds are likely to happen during a deck collapse. Frequently, puncture wounds need immediate medical assistance to prevent further complications. Depending on the severity of the injury, a person could require surgery and an extended period of recovery time.
Unfortunately, during a deck collapse accident, people are completely exposed and at risk of sustaining injuries. For instance, broken bones are a typical example of the type of injuries a person can sustain during a deck collapse. As a result of a bone fracture, a person can experience a great deal of pain and discomfort. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your accident, you may need medical assistance and prolonged recovery time. Our Philadelphia broken bone lawyers have seen many cases where accident victims cracked or shattered multiple bones after falling or being struck by objects.
Ankle injuries can occur when a person jumps or falls from a collapsing deck and lands on one or both feet. The prominent ankle bones, which are not well-shielded by protective layers of muscle or fat, are also prone to injury from contact with falling objects like heavy chunks of wood.
As the name implies, a crush injury occurs when a body part becomes trapped and crushed beneath a heavy weight. A person who gets trapped or partially trapped beneath a pile of debris or rubble is likely to sustain crush injuries.
How Common Are Deck Collapse Injuries and Death? Common
Unfortunately, a deck collapsing is not an uncommon or isolated occurrence. Each year as the winter turns to spring and as spring turns to summer, people throughout the country head outdoors and decide to use the outdoor space that has sat idle all winter. They may decide to have a barbeque, picnic, or other type of gathering, but when a deck is present it is a pretty safe bet that it will be part of the festivities. Unfortunately all too often people neglect to consider that their deck needs to be inspected and maintained on, at least, a yearly basis.
The Berkeley Balcony Collapse that Killed 6
A group of college students had gathered to celebrate the 21st birthday of one of their classmates. While some of the students attending the party were local, many of the students were in the United States on J-1 student visas from various colleges in Ireland.
At about 11:30 p.m., police indicated that they received a noise complaint about a loud party held in a fifth floor apartment. At about 12:30 a.m. and before police arrived, area residents reported that they felt something like an earthquake and heard a loud cracking noise. The vibrations and noises were produced as the fifth floor balcony broke loose from the stucco building to which it was attached. The balcony collapsed onto the fourth floor balcony below and spilled its occupants more than 50 feet onto the pavement below.
The deck collapse killed six and seriously injured seven more individuals. The families of those killed in the accident are seeking answers and looking for ways that this tragedy could have been avoided. While an official cause for the accident has yet to be established, individuals have opined about the cause of the collapse.
A structural engineer considered the number of those killed or injured in the accident and believes that the deck may have been overloaded. However important details must first be accounted for before officials can draw conclusions regarding the reasons for the collapse. First, the balcony must be measured to determine its dimensions. Then, it must be determined whether the balcony was built to the previous weight-bearing standard of 60-pound-per-square-foot standard or the new standard of 100 -pound-per-square-foot. Furthermore, it is possible that the movements of the deck’s occupants may have placed additional stress on the structure before the collapse.
The Sheraden, PA Deck Collapse
On June 13, 2015 in Sheraden, Pennsylvania a family was enjoying the summer weather. One adult and five children were swimming in a small pool. Then, a neighbor remember that she heard a loud crash, followed by what sounded like water being poured out. At first she thought that her neighbors were simply emptying the pool at an odd time, but then she heard the screams and cries for help. Eyewitnesses reported that several people were trapped under the debris from the deck collapse. Four individuals, one adult and three children, suffered relatively minor injuries due to the collapse. However, they were lucky. As we have seen, catastrophic deck failures can inflict life-altering injuries or even death.
Nova Scotia Deck Collapse that Hurt Highschool Students
Another deck collapsed occurred just days earlier on or about June 10th or 11th in Nova Scotia, Canada. A group of high school students had gathered for a photograph ion a deck. According to estimates, approximately 40 students gathered on the edge of a deck for the photo. A photograph taken actually captures the moment the deck began to collapse. A careful observer of the photograph is likely to notice a bowing in the center of the deck where the load weight was apparently focused. Also, apparent in the photo are pieces of wood falling as the deck began to give way. In all, many of the 40 students on the deck were thrown 10 to 15 feet to the ground. Media reports indicate that 12 individuals were transported to local hospitals for treatment.
A Deck Collapse in Nova Scotia Ruins a 16th Birthday
Also in Canada, a June 6th deck collapse occurred when, according to authorities, too many teens crammed onto the deck for a 16th birthday party. The collapse occurred in Nova Scotia. The deck fell eight to nine feet but, caused just one injury.
Chicago Deck Collapse During Memorial Day Weekend
A deck collapse in the Chicago-area provided a stark warning of the dangers of an improperly installed deck on Memorial Day weekend. Friends and family had gathered at the Evanstown home when, “I heard a cracking and literally it just dropped.” This eyewitness was one of seven individuals relaxing on the deck at a Memorial Day party when the deck failed without any warning. After an inspection by the Evanstown building inspector, it was revealed that the deck had not been properly attached to the home. According to the inspector, “Pretty much most deck failures occur where the deck meets the house. That’s what happened here.”
Eyewitnesses and victims of the accident remember everyone – and everything – falling on top of each other. One victim stated that she had numerous cuts and bruises and may have suffered a head injury when she was knocked unconscious. Others were simply happy that the injuries and damage wasn’t worse. One person remarked that a hot barbeque grill also fell when the deck collapsed. They stated that they were thankful that the deck hadn’t crushed or severely burned one of the residents or guests.
Our Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyers Handle Deck Collapse Lawsuits
If you suffered a deck collapse on another person’s property, you need immediate legal assistance. A property owner must ensure all areas of their land are safe and hazard free. When an owner fails to fix an existing problem on their property, and such failure causes an accident, they can be held liable for any injuries you sustain. To learn more about the possibility of a premises liability lawsuit in a free, confidential consultation, call the Philadelphia personal injury lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm today at (215) 709-6940.