Building Code Violations May be Grounds for Negligence Claim Following Injury

When a person suffers injury as a result of conditions on a property that fail to meet the current building code standards – either by state or local ordinance – this could be grounds for filing a premises liability lawsuit.

Of course, there are exceptions, which is why it’s important to have your case carefully examined by an experienced personal injury lawyer in Montgomery before proceeding.

The Alabama Supreme Court weighed this issue in the 2005 case of Parker Bldg. Servs. Co. v. Lightsey. Here, the case stemmed from an injury to a 5-year-old boy in Homewood, resulting from his presence on commercial property where building code violations existed. The ceiling caved in, causing the boy to fall to the floor and hit his head, resulting in a stroke and permanent paralysis.

The boy’s parents sued a repair company that had months earlier been hired by the property owner to make improvements. The area of the property that collapsed was not within the scope of the company’s work, but it was in the general area. It’s undisputed that had the company sought approval of the work by city inspectors – as was required by local ordinance – the structure would not have passed due to building code deficiencies.

Still, the state high court ruled that the repair company could not be held liable for negligence per se unless four elements were met. Those are:

  • That the statute was enacted to protect a class of persons, of which the plaintiff is a member;
  • That the injury must be of the type contemplated by the statute;
  • That the defendant violated the statute;
  • That the defendant’s statutory violation caused the injury.

It was determined based on this definition, the burden of proof hadn’t been met.

In a more recent premise liability case, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Sheehan v. Weaver that the defendant should be granted a new trial on the grounds that the verdict, favoring the plaintiff, was predicated on the assumption that it was a commercial property. While the structure did have some commercial characteristics, it was primarily residential. Owners of commercial property generally owe a higher duty of care to guests than do owners of private residences.

In that case, the plaintiff, who had spent the evening drinking with a friend, returned home to his rented apartment. While walking up the stairs to the outer door on the second-floor landing, he leaned against the guardrail and the guardrail broke. He suffered serious injuries as a result.

A jury found the defendant to be 40 percent liable (he shouldn’t have leaned on an unstable guardrail), but the property owner was apportioned 60 percent liability. The jury further indicated that under state law, the property owner was strictly liable because the injuries were proximately caused by a number of building code violations. However, the statute upon which that strict liability was based pertained to commercial properties – not private, residential properties.

In both of these cases, structural deficiencies that were direct violations of code resulted in serious injuries to plaintiffs. Still, the outcomes of both cases indicate that the courts require plaintiffs in premise liability claims to meet a high burden of proof. The best way to ensure you are prepared is to consult with an experienced legal team as soon as possible after your injury.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a personal injury attorney today.

Additional Resources:
Sheehan v. Weaver, April 10, 2014, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
More Blog Entries:
Montgomery Premises Liability Claims With Multiple Defendants, Jan. 15, 2014, Montgomery Premises Liability Lawyer Blog

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