Deck Collapse Property Owner Liability | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Five vacationers went to hospitals with a variety of injuries on the night of September 13, 2020, after a second-floor deck on the vacation home they had rented in the Sandbridge section of Virginia Beach collapsed. This was at least the second such incident in the Resort City during the already tough summer of 2020.

On July 9, a deck broke loose from a different Sandbridge rental property and seven people were hospitalized. Follow-up reporting on this earlier collapse revealed that several of the victims were standing below the deck when it came down. Those individuals became trapped in the wreckage, and two suffered serious head injuries.

News reports do not include information on the other types of injuries that the victims of the deck collapses suffered. The articles indicate only that none of the injuries were considered life-threatening by emergency medical personnel. The injuries could still be severe and disabling, however.

My Virginia Beach-based personal injury law firm colleagues and I learned this truth when we represented a man who broke his hip while staying at a lake house and then spent nearly a full year in hospital undergoing surgeries. His life was never in danger, but it was seriously disrupted.



But this is not a story about the potentially deadly dangers of renting a beach house in Sandbridge. Rather, the two deck collapses and our firm’s slip and fall case highlight the legal duties vacation property owners have to keep the premises up to code and in proper repair.

Vacation Property Owners Must Protect Vacationers

The City of Virginia Beach recommends annual inspections of rental properties. It also sets a schedule for when property owners must have their vacation rentals inspected in order to keep their permits.

On its website, the city states a licensed professional should check each deck and balcony for the following possible repairs:

  1. Proper attachment: the deck, porch or stairway must be properly attached and secured to the home or main structure (most decks fail at the ledger board where they attach to the main structure)
  2. Fasteners: approved fasteners were used during construction and remain tight and free from corrosion
  3. Overall condition of wood surfaces: no decaying, splitting or sagging wood is present; surface coatings, stains and/or sealants can be applied to wood surfaces to prevent decay
  4. Boards and rails: all deck boards, stairs and rails are intact and secure
  5. Supports: support posts and joists are secure and free from deterioration
  6. Flashing: flashing is in good repair and properly protects the ledger board and main structure from water intrusion

Any deficiencies should be fixed quickly, and renters should receive warnings about risks for accidents. A property owner who fails to submit to inspections and neglects to make needed repairs can be held liable for injuries resulting from a deck collapse.

Called “premises liability,” this is one of the oldest concepts in personal injury and wrongful death law. When you welcome someone into your house or business (a beach or lake house is both), you have a duty to protect your guests and customers from preventable harms. It is fairly simple to prevent a deck collapsing due to poor maintenance.

Now, the facts of the 2020 Sandbridge incidents are not fully knowable from what has been publicly reported. If investigations show that the injured people followed rules and common sense regarding how many people stood on the decks that collapsed, the property owners most likely can be held accountable for paying medical bills and providing other forms of compensation.