Activities like drinking your morning coffee on the front porch or gathering for a barbecue on a friend’s deck probably don’t register at all on your risk-meter. It’s certainly true that porches and decks don’t present a huge hazard–many of us use them on a daily basis and have never suffered any ill effects. There are far fewer porch-related and deck-related injuries than, say, injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents.
Still, thousands of people are injured each year in porch or deck incidents, and a small number are killed. Occasionally, one of these incidents is serious enough to make the news, like when a deck collapse during a Middletown party sent four people to the hospital and injured several others last year. That incident pales in comparison with the worst known porch collapse incident in the U.S. That happened in 2003, when a third-floor porch collapsed and destroyed the porches below it, killing 13 people and injuring 57 others.
And, it can be difficult to tell whether or not the porch or deck you’re standing on presents a risk. According to the North American Deck & Railing Association (NADRA), there are about 30 million decks in the United States that are beyond their “useful life” and require repair or replacement.
Porch and Deck Injury Statistics
Several years ago, Legacy Services looked at five consecutive years of data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) maintained by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). They found a total of 178,800 porch and deck related injuries, despite excluding injuries caused by slips on ice or wet surfaces, drug-related or alcohol-related injuries and other minor incidents.
Just over 11% of those injuries–20,200–resulted from structural failures or collapses. That’s an average of about 4,000/year.
More recent estimates from the CPSC suggest that the number of collapse-related injuries each year is significantly lower. CPSC says that in one recent four-year period, there were about 2,900 injuries associated with collapses and failures of porches, decks and balconies. That’s an average of about 725/year.
Who is Responsible for a Porch or Deck Injury?
Porch and deck injuries can occur in many different ways, which means there are many different possible responsible parties.
Structural Failures and Deck Collapses
Two of the most common possible responsible parties are the property owner or occupant and the contractor who constructed the deck.
Claims against the Property Owner
Under Ohio premises liability law, property owners and those in control of property have a duty to others who are on the property. However, that duty is different depending on the reason the person is on the property. The duty to a trespasser is very limited. The duty to someone who was invited onto the premises or is allowed to be there is greater. But, Ohio law distinguishes between “invitees” and “licensees.”
An invitee is a person who was invited onto the property for the owner or occupant’s benefit. The most common example of this is a patron visiting a store or other business. In the deck collapse context, an invitee might include a paying guest on a hotel balcony or a diner on the rooftop deck of a restaurant. The owner or occupant has an affirmative duty to exercise “ordinary care” to keep the premises safe for invitees.
Licensees are people who are welcome on the property, but there for their own benefit. One common example is a social guest. For example, the next-door neighbor who comes over for a cookout on the back deck. The general duty owed to a licensee is less. However, if the owner or occupant knows the licensee is on the property, they have a duty of ordinary care just as they would with an invitee.
It’s important to note, though, that this doesn’t necessarily mean the owner or occupant will be liable every time a porch or deck collapses.
Contractors and Material Suppliers
A structural failure may happen due to age, wear, storm damage or a wide range of other causes. But, it’s also possible that something went wrong in the construction of the porch or deck–either that it was improperly designed or constructed, or that the materials were faulty.
In this situation, the injured party may have a negligence claim against the contractor, a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the faulty materials, or both. This type of claim is complicated, since the injured person will have to prove that negligent construction, faulty materials, or both caused or significantly contributed to the collapse. This will typically require extensive investigation and sophisticated expert testimony, so it’s important to work with a law firm that is experienced in complex injury litigation.
Other Porch and Deck Injuries
Nearly 90% of porch-related and deck-related injuries are attributable to something other than a structural failure or collapse. These injuries cover a broad spectrum. One of the most common is falls from a deck or porch. Fall injuries happen for a wide variety of reasons, including faulty railings, pool lighting, slick surfaces, and the negligence of the person who fell or someone else in their vicinity.
Similarly, injuries can occur if the deck or porch is in poor repair and someone trips on a loose board, cuts themselves on a jagged edge, or gets a foot caught in a gap in the deck. In these circumstances, too, there are multiple possible responsible parties.
For example, if someone fell from a deck because the railing was loose, that might be attributable to:
- A defective product, such as the brackets holding the railing in place
- Defective installation due to contractor negligence
- Defective installation due to homeowner negligence
- Damage or deterioration to the railing, which may or may not be attributable to negligence of the property owner.
The best way to determine who may be liable for your injuries after a porch or deck collapse or other incident causing injury is to talk with an experienced Ohio personal injury and product liability attorney.
The attorneys at Plevin & Gallucci have decades of experience fighting for injury victims in Ohio. We offer free consultations to ensure that you have the information you need to protect your rights and make good decisions for your future. Call 855-4PLEVIN to schedule yours, or fill out the contact form on this page.