Houman Fakhimi

Terrace and Balcony Falls

Terraces and balconies offer a unique way to enjoy the California sun or a balmy evening. Many apartments and hotels boast this as a selling feature, and post pictures of the stunning views from these locations as an additional draw.

Although the Los Angeles injury lawyers at Fakhimi & Associates, Trial Attorneys, recognize that many people expect to be able to relax on a terrace or balcony, falls from these sites are an unfortunate reality.

The cluster of high-rise apartments, hotels and condos is growing in our region. Many of these have rooftop terraces, and many restaurants and hotels have rooftop bars or lounge areas. Businesses bring in revenue with these features. With that comes a great responsibility to ensure those spaces are safe for patrons.

Unfortunately, too many property owners and managers do not.

Some of the most common causes of balcony falls include:

  • Defects in the balcony or terrace design
  • Failure to maintain the integrity of the handrails, guardrails or other balcony features
  • Liquid on surface of terrace or balcony
  • Failure to close windows, doors and screens (especially in cases involving minors)
  • Failure to place proper warnings indicating potential for danger
  • Failure to meet construction codes, including retrofitting existing dangerous structures
Worst Case Scenario

In June 2015, a horrific California balcony collapse made international news when six Irish students studying at the University of California, Berkeley were killed and another seven wounded. They were reportedly on the fourth floor of an apartment building, celebrating a 21st birthday party. Most of those killed were from the same town in South Dublin.

The structure, reportedly built in 2007, appeared to have been caused by rotted wood beams. Investigators concluded the wood wasn’t caulked and sealed properly at the time of construction, and the wood was rotted by moisture as a result.

It was one of the worst balcony collapses in the nation’s history. The last one of that scope occurred in 2003 in Chicago, when 13 people were killed in a similar incident.

Although investigators noted it was unwise to have 13 people on a small balcony, had it been built properly, it should have been able to hold that weight.

The same construction general contractor was involved in two lawsuits in 2013 for failure to properly waterproof a number of balconies in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In the course of three years prior to the Berkeley collapse, the company had paid $26.5 million to settle lawsuits related to balcony failures.

Analyzing the Larger Danger of Balcony and Terrace Falls

In the last decade, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates some 6,500 people have been injured in deck failures.

However, relatively few people died as a result of these incidents. Prior to the tragic accident at Berkeley, there had been 23 fatalities nationally from 2002 through mid-2015.

The majority of annual injuries that result in emergency room treatment – about 4,600 – are associated with deck collapses. The rest, 1,900, are the result of porch failures.

When we factor in not just collapses in the structure but all falls in general, the number of injuries is much higher. A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine revealed there were 85,000 balcony fall-related injuries treated in U.S. hospitals from 1990 to 2006.

Those falls ranged from heights of 5 feet to 87.5 feet. Structural failure of the balcony was assessed in an estimated 5,600 of those cases. Children under 18 were more likely than adults to sustain closed head injuries or skull fractures than adults.

Liability in Balcony or Terrace Falls
When balconies or terraces collapse, there is a strong likelihood of a structural defect. Many times, that is the result of water issues, such as mold or dry rot. Property owners must assume that people will use these balconies. They must also assume water will come down onto the balconies and into the structure. With both of those in mind, they have to makes sure these spaces are safe.

Property managers, landlords and condo associations are required to inspect balconies every year.

In Berkeley, just a month after the deadly balcony collapse, city council adopted tighter building code restrictions that require all apartment building balconies to be inspected every three years. The new ordinance also requires new balconies to be made of materials that are corrosion-resistant and ventilated in order to prevent the build-up of moisture.

Other cities may have their own local ordinances, and there are also state standards that must be followed. These standards include not just the strength of materials, but also the gap width (to prevent children from falling out from between the slats) and other regulations.

Contact the injury lawyers at Fakhimi & Associates, Trial Attorneys, by calling (714) 705-6701. Serving the Southern California counties of Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside.