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Rights of Deck and Balcony Collapse Victims in Virginia

For many apartment dwellers, a deck or balcony is their version of a backyard — a place they can privately savor a sunny day or cool evening. Occupants and visitors alike should be able to enjoy a deck or balcony with confidence in its stability. Over the last twenty years, however, there has been a massive race to build structures which included decks and balconies.

Unfortunately, many of those decks and balconies were not built to appropriate building codes or were negligently constructed using inferior products or inadequate nails/fasteners. In some cases, owners and managers of properties have failed to properly maintain or inspect the decks and balconies, resulting in deteriorating conditions (e.g., rotting wood, rusted supports, and loose elements). These failures present a huge hazard for unsuspecting tenants and invitees.

In one case we recently resolved, a guest could not appreciate a balcony’s poor state of repair when opening the apartment door. Upon stepping onto the balcony, it acted as a trap door and collapsed, dropping the entire family onto the concrete below and resulting in horrific injuries. But, who was responsible? The landlord? The manager of the apartment complex? The builder? What are the potential remedies and barriers to recovery?

If faced with such a situation, one must first and foremost preserve the evidence. Specifically, one should:

  • Take pictures and video of the deck or balcony and all connecting points from every angle.
  • Take pictures and videos of all injuries.
  • Preserve every piece or part of the deck, and if not in control, demand that the owner or landlord do so.
Ensuing litigation, in turn, can be very complicated and highly technical. One must heed statutes of repose, determine the status of the injured person (i.e., guest, trespasser, tenant, landlord, owner), and even consider the deck’s composition (wood, concrete, metal, or some combination), amongst other things.

For example, if the victim is a tenant, then he or she may be able to recover monetary damages from the landlord or owner. Landlords and owners are liable to tenants and guests for any injury caused by a failure to exercise reasonable care in maintaining common areas in proper repair and a safe condition. By contrast, they owe no such duty for any part of the leased premises under a tenant’s exclusive possession and control, unless an exception applies.

One must also consider the deck or balcony’s location. For example, if the collapse was caused by the ledger board below the surface of the deck not being properly anchored to the building, and the tenant could not even see it without trespassing onto the patio of the tenant below, then it is arguably a common area. By contrast, such an argument could fail if the tenant also had exclusive control of the patio below.

As demonstrated by the single factual scenario above, cases involving deck and balcony collapses are complicated. Gentry Locke attorneys are familiar with such cases, and are prepared to use a wide range of civil law principles to help and protect the injured and grieving.

This article was written by Nicole Poltash, and Gentry Locke attorneys Matt Broughton and Greg Habeeb.

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These articles are provided for general informational purposes only and are marketing publications of Gentry Locke. They do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. You are urged to consult your own lawyer concerning your situation and specific legal questions you may have.