A deck collapsed in a North Carolina rental home recently, with 24 people from an extended family standing on it to take a photograph. The deck and its occupants fell 10 to 12 feet. The rental home was a vacation house valued at approximately $1.5 million. The victims sustained injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to broken bones and injuries that left them in critical condition. Chicago Tribune reported a mass casualty vehicle had to respond to the scene in order to render assistance to all of the injured victims and to transport them to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Deck collapses happen far more often than many people might realize. Last Thanksgiving, multiple people sustained serious injuries when a deck collapsed in South Carolina, according to WISTV.
When these collapses happen, it is important to determine who should be held responsible for injuries to victims. Premises liability laws determine what a property owners' duties are, and whether a property owner is responsible for harm that happens due to unsafe property conditions.
Deck Collapses Can Result from Maintenance Issues
The Chicago Tribune indicated the deck on the vacation rental home that collapsed under the weight of 24 people had been constructed along with the house in 1986. When the deck was built, it was likely built according to code. However the home is located near the ocean, and salt in the air -along with the elements - caused the nails to corrode over time. The deteriorating nails were not able to support the deck, resulting in the collapse as the people stood on it to take a picture.
Decks are not required by state law to be inspected periodically by building code enforcement to ensure they remain in good condition. In most cases, building code investigators will only come to a home if there is a complaint or a problem in most cases. Otherwise, it is up to property owners to make sure they do not allow dangerous conditions.
The specific responsibilities of homeowners and other property owners varies depending upon the purpose of the property. In the case of restaurants and retail stores, property owners have a higher duty of care under premises liability laws and must inspect the premises regularly and correct defects or provide adequate warnings about risks. For homeowners with casual guests, there is a duty to correct problems they know or should know about the property.
In the case of the deck that collapsed under the weight of 24 people, the owners may have had a higher duty of care since the property is a rental property. If a rental company facilitated the rental, that company might also be responsible for maintaining the property and ensuring the safety of the property. That's why it's always important to consult with an experienced premises liability lawyer to learn about your rights in such complicated cases.