Falls From Terrace or Balcony
People flock to Florida for the tropical breezes, warm weather and breathtaking sunsets. One of the best ways for visitors and residents to enjoy Southwest Florida is on a terrace or balcony.
At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, we know residents and guests have an expectation of being able to relax on a balcony or terrace without having to worry they may be in danger. Unfortunately, falls from balconies and terraces are increasingly common in Southwest Florida as the region becomes more developed.
We have more high-rise apartment buildings, hotels and condos than in previous decades, many with rooftop terraces and an increasing number of rooftop bars. All of these are a great benefit to local business and the overall economy, but builders and business owners alike have a duty to ensure those places are safe for patrons.Terrace and Balcony Falls: Analyzing the Danger
Falls from height are far more common in urban rather than rural areas, simply because there are a greater number of tall structures. The risk is sizeable, though, in vacation destination areas, where beachfront property owners tend to build high rise condos and hotels.
The American Journal of Emergency Medicine, using data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, reported in 2011 that there were an estimated 86,500 balcony-fall injuries treated in hospital emergency departments between 1990 and 2006. Most falls ranged from 5 feet to 87.5 feet.
- 70 percent were male;
- 63 percent were adults over 18;
- 24 percent of patients had to be hospitalized (beyond their ER visit).
In 5,600 of those instances (or about 6.5 percent), injuries were the result of structural deficiencies. Although balcony falls involving children declined during that time, those involving adults remained steady. Patients younger than 18 were more likely than adults to suffer a concussion or other closed head injury and/or a skull fracture.
Although most balcony-related injuries nationwide occur in the spring and summer, people in Florida are more apt to be outdoors throughout the year, which further exacerbates the chances of a fall.Causes and Consequences of Balcony and Terrace Falls
Many times when a person has suffered a balcony fall, it can be attributed to a design defect or a property owner’s failure to maintain the property in a safe condition. Either can be sufficient grounds for a premises liability lawsuit.
F.S. § 509.211 covers safety regulations for lodging and food service establishments. Section 3 of this statute holds that any public establishment or lodge that is three or more stories in height must have safe and secure railings on all balconies, platforms and stairways. Further, all railings have to be properly maintained and repaired. Failure to do so can result in fines and revocation/suspension of commercial license. If that failure is deemed the proximate cause of an injury to a guest, that establishment could face litigation.
Some of the more common causes of balcony falls include:
- A defect in the design of the balcony or terrace;
- A failure to properly maintain the integrity of the balcony, handrails or guardrails;
- Liquid on the floor of the balcony;
- Failure to close windows, screens and doors, thus allowing access to areas not properly secured (particularly relevant in cases involving minors);
- Allowing consumption of alcohol in areas known to result in heightened risk of fall;
- Failure to place proper warning signs;
- Failure to abide by newer construction codes by retrofitting existing dangerous structures.
Especially problematic for structures built near the beaches in Southwest Florida, building quality control 30 to 40 years ago was not advanced. In Miami, for example, dozens of building owners had to spend millions in municipal fines and balcony renovations in the early 2000s after inspectors found the structures crumbling. Most likely, deterioration was accelerated due to the fact that builders were trying to keep pace with the demand for high-rises, and mixed beach sand with cement and other aggregates to make concrete. They weren’t technically violating building codes at the time, but there was no real quality control, and the mix rapidly weakened, rusted the frame and led to cracking, breaking concrete.
Similar issues have been reported too in other South Florida cities. Some builders operating during the most recent construction boom were also known to cut corners, and those structural flaws will become more apparent as buildings age.
The extent of injuries suffered by someone who falls from a terrace or balcony is going to depend on several factors, most notably the height at which the person falls. Those falling from greater heights have lower survival rates and increased risk of more serious injuries and disabilities.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a balcony or terrace fall in Southwest Florida, contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.