A deck collapse on July 4 at a rental house in North Carolina caused a number of persons to be injured. The collapse is believed to have been caused by nails, deteriorated by years of exposure to the sand, salt and moisture from the ocean, that gave way. Twenty-four people were injured as they posed for a picture on the deck at the beachfront home located in Emerald Isle. It appears that the deck was most likely up to code when the house was built in 1986. The nearly 30-year-old nails fell apart and the deck collapsed on July 4. According to reports, the pilings of the deck remained in place, and two-thirds of the structure did not fall.
The persons were injured when they fell about 10 feet to the ground. The ages of those injured ranged from 5 to 94. At press time, two were still in critical condition. The family staying at the rental home was from northern Virginia. The injuries ranged from minor cuts and abrasions to more severe injuries that appeared to include broken bones. The house, which was being rented by Bluewater Real Estate, is a six-bedroom, five-bath oceanfront home with an elevator. It is currently up for sale for nearly $1.15 million. The deck area, estimated to be about 12 feet by 12 feet, gave way from about 10 to 12 feet above the ground. The one-story house was on pilings.
Neither North Carolina law nor Emerald Isle’s building code require inspections after a structure is completed unless complaints are made or problems are noted. We know from our experience with these type cases that regular inspections by the owner or company managing the property are essential to ensuring that decks are capable of supporting reasonable and anticipated loads. Because deck failures can lead to serious injuries and even death, rental property owners and managers with elevated decks have a responsibility to conduct inspections on a regular basis and to follow up on the findings and recommendations coming from the inspections.
Furthermore, inspections by structural engineers are strongly recommended. Issues that lead to a deck collapse may escape the untrained eye, but structural engineers know exactly where to look and what conditions indicate an imminent collapse. Nobody should be doing inspections who hasn’t been adequately trained. The agreements between the owner and property manager, along with the property manager’s policies and procedures, commonly detail which entity is responsible for inspections and the frequency of those inspections.
National building codes and the International Property Maintenance Code specifically require regular inspections of elevated decks to identify and rectify issues before a collapse occurs. Regular inspections and proper maintenance of elevated decks should prevent most deck collapses. Until owners and property managers take their responsibilities more seriously, we will continue to see unnecessary and catastrophic events like this one in North Carolina.
Source: Insurance Journal
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