Proving Negligence in a Structural Failure Case

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Structural collapses are far more than just a shocking sight. They cause devastation and death and result in years of PTSD and health issues for survivors.

The partial Champlain South Tower condo collapse in Florida, for instance, left 98 dead and 11 injured. Investigations are ongoing into the cause of the collapse, with fingers pointing towards degradation of the structural support in the basement parking.

Unfortunately, building collapses will continue as long as the people in charge of construction are negligent in their duties. When it comes to the inevitable lawsuits after a disaster like this, ignoring structural damage may equal negligence, too.

If a building collapse survivor can prove that the building, owner, or construction company was negligent by ignoring obvious structural damage, they have a very strong personal injury case.

It is terrifying to think about, but if you are ever injured during a building or structural collapse, like the Francis Scott Key Bridge incident, you must know the legal steps to take.

Negligence in Structural Failure Incidents

In legal terms, negligence means that someone failed to take the appropriate action or exercise the degree of care that another person would under similar circumstances.

In a structural collapse, negligence means that one or more parties breached their duty to build and maintain a safe structure, causing structural failure. These parties may include builders, engineers, property owners, architects, and inspectors.

If you want to prove negligence in a personal injury case, you must show the following:

  • Duty of care: You must demonstrate that the defendant in your case owed you a duty of care. You must prove the defendant was legally obligated to protect you and others from harm.

The defendant should have worked or acted in a way that would not have created a risk or hazard for you and others. For instance, a builder must adhere to building codes and engineering regulations. If they do not, they act negligently, which could lead to structural failure.

  • Breach of duty: You must prove that the defendant violated their duty of care. This means showing that the defendant did not follow the necessary steps or take the right actions to prevent structural failure.

In most structural failure cases, the defendant ignored warnings from engineers or used substandard materials. Sometimes, it also means that a defendant failed to have a building inspected or simply ignored existing structural damage.

  • Causation: Proving duty of care and breach of duty is not enough. You must also link the breach of duty to your injury or property damage. For instance, if you live in an apartment building that collapsed, you must prove that the owner’s negligence in inspecting the building led to the collapse and your subsequent damages.

Expert testimony is typically required to show the link between negligence and injury or loss.

  • Damages: You also need to show your damages. This equals proof of medical expenses, loss of income, and non-economic damages.

Proving Negligence

If you want to show irrefutable proof of negligence, you must prove one or more of the following. These are examples only because several factors play into structural collapses:

  • A professional architect or builder may have known that the building design could not withstand adding several stories. Yet, they went ahead with the building plan anyway.
  • Engineers, architects, and builders all have intricate knowledge of building materials. They may have chosen cheaper options, which ultimately could not withstand the load on the building.
  • There is the possibility that the building manager did not have the structure regularly inspected, and parts of it may have deteriorated. Irregular inspections make it easier to miss foundational cracks or stress point failures.
  • There may have been too many people in the building one too many times without consequences from the building manager.

Building a Legal Case

If you want to build a legal case after a building collapse, you cannot assume any of the above scenarios. You must have solid evidence of what happened.

This means you need to show a deviation from the building plans or permits. For example, the builder may have illegally added two floors, knowing that the building could not handle the extra weight.

Previous inspection reports may reveal dire warnings or concerns about structural issues and other ignored problems.

The same goes for maintenance records. If you can find records that prove the building manager or other authorities never maintained the building, this will help prove negligence.

It is not always possible to get photos of building structure issues before a collapse, but if you can, this will be incredibly powerful evidence for your case.

Moreover, you should ask your lawyer to contact qualified engineers, builders, architects, etc., to analyze the cause of failure and assess whether professional standards were breached. This can link to a duty of care and a breach of duty in your legal case.

Parties That May Be Liable for Damages

Several parties could be liable for damages after a building collapse based on proving negligence.

For instance, builders and contractors may be liable for not adhering to building codes or following the correct construction techniques.

Architects and engineers may be to blame if they produce a weak design or do not follow engineering principles.

In some cases, property owners may be to blame if they were aware of structural issues and damage but did not have it repaired.

Building inspectors can also be blamed for a structural collapse if they do not identify or report structural issues. This is especially true if these issues directly contributed to the collapse.

Resolving a Legal Case After a Building Collapse

You can resolve your legal case through negotiation if you do not want to go to court. In most instances, personal injury cases are settled outside of the courtroom.

If you are unhappy with the initial offer and cannot reach a settlement, you can try mediation. If this also fails, your lawyer must take your case to court.

Remember that resolving a case like this could take months or years. As highlighted above, proving negligence is difficult and depends on several factors and scenarios. However, if you take each step as it comes, you and your lawyer can eventually hold the liable parties accountable and recover some of the losses you suffered.