Two dozen people suffered spinal injuries, broken bones and a range of other injuries requiring hospital treatment when a balcony they were standing on separated from a beachfront rental home on Emerald Island, North Carolina (NC). The incident occurred on the night of July 4, 2015, and five of the victims remained hospitalized two days later.
The preliminary investigation into the balcony collapse points to deteriorated nails and weakened joists as the primary reason the balcony fell. According to television station WITN, which serves the Outer Banks, the million-dollar house was built in 1986 but had not been fully inspected for structural integrity since then. Neither the private owners nor the property management company that rents out the house had requested inspections, and neither state law nor local ordinances require them after a residential building is approved for occupancy.
While charges for violating safety rules appear unlikely, the house's owner or management company may have liability for settling insurance claims and paying damages to the injured tourists. Homeowners and business operators have obligations to ensure visitors and customers remain safe and healthy. Known legally as premises liability, the principal imposes duties on individuals and companies to identify and minimize risks for falling, tripping and suffering other harms.
A significant part of meeting those duties involves having structures and facilities inspected, repaired and renovated on a regular basis. If it turns out that no one had checked out the balcony over the past 30 years and replaced rusted out nails and rotted beams, that could constitute negligence in protecting people who used the structure. A possible defense against that could be that the people who fell and became injured recklessly overloaded the balcony. A court case may be necessary to sort through such questions.