You have probably heard that many individuals suffer injuries in buildings that were not “up to code.” But exactly what does “up to code” mean, who is responsible and who defines whether the structure meets specific building codes?
Federal, state and municipal governments mandate that each building structure be designed, constructed and maintained to ensure a specific level of safety. Building codes are required for office complexes, grocery stores, hotels, hospitals, department stores and any location where others work, visit or live. It is the legal obligation of owners and possessors to keep their property free of any dangerous or hazardous condition and can be held responsible for “premises liability” should someone become injured.
Code violations can easily create serious conditions where victims might slip and fall, be electrocuted or injured by malfunctioning or defective equipment. These types of hazards are often the result of a code violation that could include:
- Stairways with missing or broken handrails
- Uneven surfaces without adequate posted warnings
- Rotting, warped or crumbling stairways
- Insufficient lighting at curbs, stairways and on uneven surfaces
- Missing slip-resistant entryway mats that minimize falling on a slick surface
- Pooling water from the downspout that creates icy patches
- Neglected accumulated ice and snow
- Fires caused by defective electrical wiring, faulty heaters and stoves
- Malfunctioning elevators and escalators
- Other hazardous condition
Building Code Inspectors
Before any new building or remodel project can be constructed, the plan and design must meet local ordinances and laws ensuring safe building construction and easy maintenance. Most municipalities, cities and states follow the well-established IBC (International Building Code) standard enforced to ensure the general public remain safe while using the structure.
To maintain enforcement of the building code, most jurisdictions employ inspectors that rely on current codebooks for both residential and commercial properties. Building plans for new construction, remodeling and restoration are only accepted once they meet all applicable building codes. Upon construction, the local inspector will visit the job site to ensure each phase of the construction meets the approved design, which ensures public safety.
Reporting a Violation
Over time, nearly any building can fall out of code and place occupants, visitors and others in harm’s way. Inspectors usually only know about violations of the local, state and federal building codes through a complaint filed by individuals visiting, working or living on the site.
Reporting violations to the local building inspector places the property owner, management and others on notice that they are open to premises liability by injured victims. Nearly any individual suffering injuries caused by building code violations has a case against property owners, government agencies or others in charge of maintaining the premises. This includes residential homeowners if the injured victim was a visitor.
Every property owner must ensure that each part of the building structure including sidewalks and parking lots remains in compliance with state, local or federal building codes. As an example, if the victim is injured by a broken handrail, accumulated ice from a previous snowfall or slippery surface caused by spilt liquids, the property owner might be legally liable through a claim or lawsuit.
Filing a Lawsuit or Claim for an Injury Due to a Code Violation
Filing a case for compensation is necessary to ensure the victim receives adequate recompense. However, proving exactly who is at fault in a premises liability case is typically a complicated task. However, reputable attorneys can evaluate the claim for compensation, discuss legal theories of liability and how it applies to the case to determine the best possible legal action to move the claim forward.
A skilled personal injury law firm specializing in premises liability claims will help collect evidence from the accident scene and meet with local inspectors to evaluate the dangerous condition. Investigators hired by the attorney will take photographs and make note of any defect at the site, or those quickly repaired by property owners.
In addition, the lawyer will gather eyewitness accounts who can provide testimony on any safety issue or defect on the property. The attorney will look for any red flag, notice of violation or written warning issued by a local code enforcement department indicating that the owners or others in charge of the property were aware, or should have been aware, of any existing problem.
Nearly all building code violations prove negligence. Using the violation is an easy way to shift the legal argument about who is liable to redirect focus on the amount of recompense owed to the victim.