Premises Liability Law in the Wake of a Balcony Collapse

A balcony can be a great addition to a home, especially when an apartment or condominium doesn't include any other outside access. However, it seems like at least once a year we read about a balcony collapse in Panama City or the neighboring towns. A variety of factors can determine the severity of these crashes, with balcony height, balcony size, and the number of people using the space at the time of the collapse influencing whether the only result is property damage and minor injuries versus life-altering injuries, or even deaths. These incidents are often covered under a specific field of law called premises liability, an area of law our Panama City balcony collapse lawyer understands and can navigate to help victims recover money damages in civil court.

Panama City Balcony Collapse Injures Two

On Tuesday, May 28 at approximately 9:30 P.M., deputies from the Bay County Sheriff's Office responded to a call at Largo Mar Condominiums on Thomas Drive in Panama City. As detailed by The News Herald, the emergency response was triggered by the collapse of a second-story balcony at the complex.

Officials found a man and a woman lying in the debris and wreckage of a unit's back patio. Assisted by EMS personnel and firefighters, deputies freed the man and woman from the remnants of the broken balcony and then transported them to a local hospital. Reports indicate both were alert, conscious, and suffering from non-life-threatening injuries.

Florida Premises Liability Law

Premises liability is the area of law that deals with a landowner or property operator's duty to maintain a safe manner for those who visit the location. Colloquially, premises liability law is sometimes called "slip and fall law," but its coverage is much broader than that title would imply. It can include construction site accidents, claims tied to an assault on the property (i.e. negligent security or negligent hiring), certain claims related to a fire at the location, and claims stemming from a balcony collapse or other injuries related to structural defects and maintenance issues.

Premises liability claims are, at their basic essence, negligence claims. Therefore, the basic elements are: duty; breach; injury/injuries proximately caused by the breach; and damages. The "duty" in premises liability cases depends on the status of the injured party. Described as a "preliminary issue" in the Standard Jury Instructions (see Instruction 401(16)), the law distinguishes between:

  1. Invitees/invited licensees (who are invited, expressly or by reasonable implication, onto the premises by the owner or the current possessor; ex. a shopper in a store is invited by implication onto the premises by the store owner who rents and operates the property).
  2. Trespassers/uninvited licensees.

As to licensees, business or social, the owner or operator must keep the property in reasonably safe condition and correct (or warn the invitee about) dangerous conditions, including those that the owner or operator knew about or that should have known through reasonable care. As to known or foreseeable trespassers/uninvited licensees, the first duty is to avoid willful or wanton harm (i.e. no "booby traps") and, once the trespasser is discovered, to warn him of known dangers that are not immediately obvious. The law also provides special protections to children. Premises-related duties are discussed in Instruction 401(20), available via the link above, and also in a useful chart included in a Florida Bar Journal article by Wilton Strickland).

Applying the Law to the Recent Collapse

If the people injured in the recent balcony collapse were renting the condo unit, then they would be classified as invitees and the condo's owners and/or operators would owe them the highest level of premises-related duties. A premises liability claim would most likely exist. A crucial step would be an investigation into what caused the collapse. Possible causes include structural and maintenance failures. In a case of this sort, our Panama City premises liability lawyer would work closely with experts in architecture and engineering in order to prove that the balcony was unreasonably unsafe.

Please call if our experienced team can help you with a premises liability claim in the Florida Panhandle region.

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