Our firm represented members of a family injured when an exterior stairway at a vacation rental home in Salvo, North Carolina collapsed beneath them. Our clients were assembling on the exterior stairs of the home for a family photo, by drone photography. They were positioned on various steps of the second floor of the stairway when it unexpectedly collapsed, causing them to fall 8 to 12 feet to the concrete driveway below.
Several members of the family suffered injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to various severely broken bones ultimately requiring surgical repairs. The family reached out to our Outer Banks North Carolina personal injury law firm while some family members remained on the Outer Banks. Their prompt call allowed us to retain a structural engineer who immediately went to the rental home, to inspect, measure and photograph the failed portions of the stairway. This information was important as the case progressed because it established the stairway failed under a load which was less than the mandatory load requirements set by the North Carolina state building code at the time of the construction of the beach rental cottage.
We were unable to resolve any of the cases prior to filing suit. Separate lawsuits were filed on behalf of each of our clients against the homeowners and the realty management company. We learned during the discovery process that prior tenants had reported deficiencies with the decking and stairway of the home prior to our clients' injuries. We also learned the management company recommended an inspection of the deck and stairways of the home prior to the vacation season in which our clients were injured. The inspection was never performed.
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Our claim against the homeowner was the stairway failed to meet the building code’s load requirements and was thus a violation of the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act, a key NC statute which sets forth safety requirements for all vacation rentals in North Carolina. The Act requires vacation rentals meet all current building codes and requires the landlords to provide a safe rental premises. The calculations of the structural engineer provided us solid evidence the stairway’s condition was in violation of the applicable building code.
We also made a claim under the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act against the property management company. The owner of the home testified at deposition he instructed the realty company to have a qualified inspector perform an inspection of the stairways prior to the vacation season in which the stairway collapsed beneath our clients. This inspection was never performed. The owner's testimony served as the primary basis for our claim against the property management company under the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act.
We were required to file suits for the injured guests, and concentrated on each client case. Our clients were residents of Pennsylvania and we were able to monitor the medical care that they received in PA and coordinated each client’s medical situation as well. One by one, Randy Appleton, the lead attorney on these cases, successfully settled each case. The last case to resolve involved a lower leg injury and Randy was interviewed about the particulars of this woman’s case.
Gross settlements totaling $967,900.00
Lawyer Corner - Randy Appleton Sits Down and Provides InSight Into This Stairway Collapse Premises Liability Case
Q: Randy, how many people were injured in this deck collapse?
A: There were eight family members that were injured in the collapse.
Q: Is it true that one of the victims suffered a lower extremity or leg injury?
A: Yes. One of the family members suffered a compound fracture of her left leg.
Q: This case went into litigation and you, particularly, had to work to convince the rental company and their insurance adjuster to pay substantial damages, correct?
A: Yes. It was not so much on the damage side, but the defendant tried to fight us on the liability side of the equation.
Q: What was the issue with liability?
A: Well, we had two defendants. One was the owner of the house and the other was the realty company. The biggest issue in the case was which defendant was the most responsible for the injuries.
Q: Okay. So, to set the stage, it was a vacation rental and it was a family and friends staying at this beach cottage, correct?
A: Yes. The family and friends were standing on the steps of the cottage to take a family photo, waiting for the drone to get air lifted, or aerial. While they were standing there, the stairway collapsed beneath them and they fell about 8 to 12 feet.
Q: What were some of the key things you had to develop to establish liability?
A: Well, the family called us immediately and we were able to get a structural engineer to go to the scene while all the parties were still there. That enabled us to establish that the stairway would not bear the load that the Building Code required it to bear. As a result, this established liability on the homeowner for failing to properly maintain the stairway. Additionally, in discovery, we learned that the property owner claimed that he had given the realty company instructions to inspect the deck before the vacation season began and the inspection was not performed. As a result, we argued that this created liability for the rental company as well under the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act.
Q: How important is the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act to these types of cases?
A: It's very important. If not for this law, many victims probably would not have a recourse to pursue financial restitution for their harms and losses. The North Carolina Vacation Rental Act imposes duties upon the homeowner to make sure that the property is well maintained and to upon the realty company to make sure that it is appropriately and safely managed.
Q: Did you have to obtain experts to address different issues?
A: Yes. We retained two medical experts to help address the extent of the injuries suffered by the family members. We also retained a structural engineer who testified that the house did not comply with the Building Code and in violation of the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act. Additionally, we had a property management expert to establish the duties of the realty company under the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act.
Q: At some point prior to trial, were you able to negotiate a settlement that was fair for our client?
A: Yes, it was a lengthy process. We went through court-ordered mediation and our client underwent several surgeries. Nevertheless, we reached an amicable settlement after most of the depositions had been taken in the case of the experts.