Good weather will soon be here, or at least we hope this is the case. Spring is an ideal time for property owners to inspect their decks, balconies and exterior stairs before family and friends start gathering for birthday parties, graduations, barbecues, and other events. A recent tragedy highlights the need for property owners to perform these inspections this spring. On April 22, a Portland man fell from the third floor balcony of an apartment house after the railing he was leaning against gave way. The man died from his injuries.
Incidents such as the one in Portland are not unique here in Maine. In December of 2009, a second floor deck collapsed in Orono and several people were seriously injured. In June of 2005, a second floor deck at an apartment building in Ft. Kent collapsed during a party, resulting in 15 people being injured, including five who were taken to a hospital. There are many more incidents where people are injured which do not generate the publicity of these events which were reported in the media.
In addition to dealing with the emotional trauma of a family member, friend, guest or tenant being injured on your property, a property owner could be held liable for the damages resulting from the injuries if he/she is found to have been negligent with respect to the design, construction or maintenance of the deck, balcony, stairs or railing system.
There are several conditions which can lead to the failure of a deck, balcony, stairs or railing system. These include:
- Improper design
- Structural defects
- Inadequate anchoring of the structure to the property
- Improper fasteners
- Railing systems of inadequate height, lack of proper balusters, or systems not securely attached
- Exceeding the maximum weight limit
- Improper support of the deck, balcony or stairs
- Lack of proper maintenance
Whatever the cause of the failure, it likely could have been prevented had the system been inspected and any deficiencies properly repaired.
If you own a home or apartment building which has a deck, balcony or exterior stairs, I recommend you inspect them now, and again next spring. If you are not sure what to look for, have a contractor or home inspector perform the inspection for you. If you are a tenant and observe what you think is a problem with the deck, balcony or stairs where you rent, bring this to the attention of your landlord. If a problem is detected, repair it promptly. You, and everyone who will be using the deck, balcony, or stairs, will be glad you did so.
Here are several videos on what causes decks to collapse, including a collapse caught on video.