Premises Liability Claims in Balcony Fall Cases
It is a danger we usually hear about during Spring Break, but it can occur any time of year and can involve victims of any age. Balcony falls are dangerous, with many resulting in death or permanent injury. Attorney Pittman can help victims and their families recover compensation when a fall is caused by the failure of a company or individual to properly construct or maintain the property. Attorney Pittman understands the elements of a premises-related injury claim and is prepared to respond to objections and defenses that a defendant may raise in an attempt to escape responsibility.
Woman Dies in Balcony Fall at Panama City Beach Condo
According to WJHG, a woman fell to her death from a balcony on Sunday at the Summerwinds condo community on Thomas Drive in Panama City. The Beach Patrol unit of the Bay County Sheriff's Office fielded a 911 call around noon on Sunday reporting the fall. Investigators confirm they found the woman's body in a parking lot, but they have not released many details because it is an on-going investigation.
Balcony Falls and Premises Liability Basics
Balcony falls can stem from a range of problems. Sometimes, the balcony was never constructed properly. Notably, Florida requires that hotel and condominium balconies have railings that are at least 42 inches high and that gaps between railing bars may not exceed 4 inches. In other cases, a collapse is precipitated by the failure to properly calculate a balcony's capacity. Even when a balcony is built in a safe manner, poor maintenance can render it dangerous. Maintenance issues include rusted supports, rotted wood, and loose railings. Any of these issues can lead to a fall, resulting in anything from a minor sprain to a serious spinal cord injury or even death.
Usually, a balcony fall claim will involve premises liability law. The basic concept in premises liability law is an owner/operator's duty to maintain property in a reasonably safe condition and to provide warning if there is a danger that is not open and obvious. Precise duties vary depending on the relationship between the potential plaintiff and the owner/operator, with the highest duties arising in business relationships (ex. a store and patron, a hotel and guest). The law also looks to the degree of control that the potential defendant had over the property, such as a condo company's right to access a balcony to make needed repairs.
Premises Liability Defenses: Blaming the Victim and the Intoxication Defense
Often, in balcony fall litigation, the defendant will try to blame the plaintiff for his or her own fall. One of the most common forms of this defense in the case of balcony falls is claiming the victim was drunk and that her intoxication caused the fall. Florida Statute 768.36 specifically addresses this type of defense, holding that the victim cannot recover if: 1) her blood alcohol level was over 0.08 or, more broadly, if the victim's "normal faculties were impaired" AND 2) the plaintiff bore half or more of the fault for her own injury (there is also another law applicable specifically to trespassers). This is a very fact-specific inquiry and one that involves a notable departure from the usual comparative fault rules that we have discussed in prior posts.
The Importance of Skilled Legal Counsel
Even when liability seems straightforward, premises liability cases can become very complex. This is why hiring an experienced lawyer is critical. Remember, our contingency fee arrangements in injury cases mean we don't get paid unless you get compensation for your injuries.