The number of injuries caused by the collapse and failure of outdoor decks and porches has dramatically increased according to a recent study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) since 2003. The study analyzed three categories, all involving wood structures:
• decks, porches, balconies and open floors;
• railings; and
Based on the statistics from the CPSC, 224,000 people were injured nationally due to a deck or porch in the five-year study period. Nearly 15 percent of these injuries were a result of a structural failure or collapse. Another study conducted in 2007 by Morse Technologies reported that deck collapses were increasing at an average rate of 21 percent per year.
Of those injuries, 33,000 were a result of a structural failure or collapse. The estimate for “serious” injuries resulting from those failures exceeded 18,000. Serious injuries included head trauma, concussion, major fractures such as those associated with the back, and paralysis. Most injuries were preventable if a proper deck inspection had been performed each year by a qualified professional.
This is a growing epidemic in our country. Frankly, I was surprised when I began researching this topic at the number of inci-dents. They are much more common than you think. In 2013, in Gulf Shores, Ala., authorities said six spring break vacationers were sent to the hospital after a deck collapsed at a gulf-front home. In July 2010, in Hoover, Ala., a second-floor deck collapsed at a condo complex, killing one person. A week later, at the same complex, a second deck collapsed, injuring four. The most tragic deck collapse occurred in June of 2003 when a porch gave way in Chicago, killing 13 people and injuring 57. This incident created a concern for deck and porch safety across the country. There have also been numerous other deck collapses in recent years:
• 6/11/2012 Manchester, N.H.: Portable classroom trailers at five city schools were closed after children were injured when a wooden platform attached to a trailer collapsed at one school.
• 5/19/2012 Ashland, N.H.: Rear deck porch collapse
• 5/2012 Churubusco, Ind.: A report of a collapse at a pre-prom gathering where 12 teenagers tumbled.
• 9/20/2011 Castleton, Vt.: Seven Castleton State College students were injured when a deck holding revelers collapsed.
• 9/26/2004 Milford, Conn.: Eight people were injured, including a soon-to-be bride, when a deck at the back of a house “collapsed like a house of cards.”
Most failures of decks, balconies and railings can be avoided if properly designed. Unfortunately, many older decks were built before code requirements were in
place and have now degraded or weakened over the years. According to the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA):
It’s estimated that 2.5 million new or replacement decks were built last year. Almost every new home being built today in-cludes an elevated deck or porch. And, existing decks on older homes are being replaced at a very high rate. In fact, the number of personal injuries and deaths related to decks each year is likely to continue to rise because more decks are being constructed each year and existing decks are deteriorating.
Deck, porch and balcony failures and collapses are avoidable with proper construction and upkeep. Here is a quick checklist of some items to look for if you have a deck, balcony or porch:
• rotting or splitting wood framing members;
• loose or missing nails, screws or anchors;
• missing, damaged or loose support beams;
• unstable, shaky handrails or guards;
• corroded connections at deck ledgers and hangers;
• proper type, use and size of connectors (bolts versus nails);
• perimeter house flashing at the deck or balcony interface; and
• height and location of railings.
The International Residential Code and the International Property Monitor Code apply to the owners and operators of commercial properties such as apartment complexes. The requests and standards established by these codes must be fully understood and followed.
The International Residential Code (IRC) recommends specific minimum live and dead load requirements for decks, balconies and porches, including snow and wind loads. The hand railings and guards have similar specific loading requirements. Inspections are an absolute must. Deck inspections are absolutely critical to the safety of the tenants and are the most effective way to prevent and/or eliminate deck, balcony and railing collapses. Owners and managers must also be familiar with and comply with the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC). This code is routinely adopted by cities and counties. For example, the City of Montgomery has adopted it.
If you live in an older apartment or condo complex, I recommend that you ask your building supervisor when the owners last hired a professional engineer to inspect the stairs, railings, decks, walkways and balconies. I hope that you will not be shocked by their answers. If you need more information on this subject, contact Kendall Dunson or Dana Taunton, lawyers in our firm’s Personal Injury/Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Kendall.Dunson@beasleyallen.com or Dana.Taunton@beasleyallen.com.
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