Each year as families and friends head outside for summer fun, barbecues, and other warm-weather pastimes it is essential to ensure that all outdoor facilities and equipment are thoroughly inspected. Unfortunately, as we seem to hear about every year, far too many homeowners and property owners fail to engage in inspections after the winter weather has cleared. This failure means that dangerous and defective conditions are allowed to fester and become more severe until structural failure becomes imminent.
The failure of decks, balconies, and porches are typically catastrophic events producing numerous injuries and deaths because they are often elevated many feet above the ground. Furthermore, these outdoor gathering places are often perched high above hard asphalt or concrete surfaces that do not provide any measurable cushion from the fall.
However, balcony and terrace collapses are not inevitable events of a new summer. They are tragic, but preventable events. Let’s look at a few recent collapses to see factors that increase the risk of a collapse.
Berkeley Balcony Collapse Kills Six
The Berkley balcony collapse was a tragedy that was briefly on the front page of nearly every national news publication. The collapse occurred during one of the resident’s 21st birthday party. In fact, it seems that a larger than planned event occurred. At roughly 11:30 in the evening police stated that they received a call from a neighbor about excessive noise coming from the fifth-story apartment. Police were unable to respond in time, but at about 12:30 a.m. those in the vicinity reported feeling something similar to an earthquake and a loud splitting-cracking noise. Neighbors later found out that the noise was the sound of the fifth floor balcony breaking loose form the apartment building. The occupants of the deck were spilled out falling more than 50 feet to the ground below. Six people were killed and seven others suffered severe injuries.
Investigators later determined that the collapse had occurred chiefly due to improper sealing and weatherproofing at the time of installation. This failure allowed water to seep into the wooden support beams that held up the balcony. Over time the moisture weakened these beams and caused them to deteriorate. On the night of the party when 13 people crowded onto the balcony, this caused the support beam to fail and the balcony to plummet to ground.
After the collapse a structural engineer remarked that he had seen the wood simply crumble into a dust or break off into chunks. He elaborated that this typically means the deterioration was particularly advanced. While it is possible and perhaps probable that an initial inspection would not have caught the lack of weather proofing, subsequent inspections should have revealed developing deterioration.
Porch Collapse at Beach Vacation Home Collapses
In another recent deck collapse, a family gathered at a South Carolina beach town over Fourth of July weekend had their festivities unexpectedly cut short. The family had gathered on the nearly 30 year-old deck attached to the vacation home to take a family photo. As the 24 family members moved into position for the photo, a portion of the deck gave way. The roughly 144 square foot section of the deck that collapsed caused the 24 people to fall roughly 15 feet to the ground below. Several were severely injured including a 94 year-old grandmother who, according to an eyewitness, appeared to have multiple broken bones. Others were suspected of having traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) due to the collapse.
The final report issued on the cause of the deck collapse indicated that it was caused by corroded nails. The corroded nails were insufficient to support the load that was present on the deck that day. Furthermore, nails should not be used in future construction because they are an inappropriate type of fastener whose smooth sides allow them to pull away from the structure to which they are attached. Instead, appropriate bolts, screws, or other fasteners should always be used to affix a deck to a building.
Hurt in a Deck or Porch Collapse?
If you have been injured by an improperly constructed or insufficiently maintained deck, porch, balcony, or terrace, the Kieklak Law firm may be able to fight for compensation for you. To schedule a free and confidential personal injury consultation with a Fayetteville AR personal injury lawyer, call (479) 316-0438 or contact us online today.
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