06 July 2015
Balcony Injuries: The Responsibility of Property Owners
The Californian balcony tragedy highlights one of the many risks holidaymakers face whilst on holiday.
Laws pertaining to balconies are generally in place to try to ensure that sufficient precautions are implemented to avoid accidents of this nature. The families of those who died in this accident will clearly want answers and will want justice to be done for the loved ones that they have lost.
Most countries have their own laws pertaining to safety to try to prevent these accidents occurring. In England and Wales we have laws in place to ensure that all reasonable practicable steps are taken to ensure that balconies are inspected at regular intervals and we hope that these inspections are carried out in a manner that would highlight defects. Where regulations are in place and not followed then the consequences can be catastrophic as we have seen in this case.
In America the laws vary from State to State. Under Californian law, an owner of a property has a duty to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition. If it fails to fulfil that duty, it is negligent and may be held liable for any injury or death caused by that negligence.
Part of the owner’s duty is to inspect the property and take other proper means to discover dangerous conditions that may cause injury or death. A residential landlord, especially, is under a duty to conduct reasonable periodic inspections of its property to locate and repair dangerous conditions.
In this terrible case of the balcony collapse that killed six people in Berkeley, California, the owner of the property had a duty to inspect the balcony to ensure that it was sound and could support the weight of numerous people. If the balcony could not support the weight, the owner had a duty to restrict access to the balcony. Failure to perform these tasks would make the property owner negligent. Whether these inspections were carried out properly or at all remains to be seen but one would assume that there has been a fundamental flaw with any inspections that took place.
The owner of the property may not delegate this duty to another. In other words, it may not absolve itself of liability by, for example, hiring an outside company to conduct inspections or to perform maintenance. Even if that outside company were negligent in performing its duties, the owner will still be held liable as the entity ultimately responsible for inspections and maintenance of the property.
Liability for an unsafe condition of property extends beyond the owner to the property manager as well, and to anyone else who has control over the property, even where contractors had been employed to carry out work or inspections. Liability may also extend to the architects who designed the balcony and to the contractors who built it for failure to adhere to professional standards. However, that liability cannot be determined until thorough investigations of the tragedy have been completed.
For more information on the dangers of holiday hotel balconies see our previous blog: Balconies Abroad – What are the Risks?
Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK are experts in securing compensation in holiday accident claims. If you would like a free consultation after an injury whilst on holiday you can call us on freephone 0800 916 9046 or from abroad on +44 20 7657 155 or contact us online and we will call you.