Can I Sue the Owner for Injuries I Received in a Deck Collapse?
As an injury lawyer, I often wonder whether I am the only one who thinks about deck collapse when I step onto them. Although I acknowledge a bit of paranoia, my questions exist because deck collapses are typically sudden and cause catastrophic injuries. As builders, owners, or occupiers of decks, it is important to understand associated liability issues. Below, I briefly explore some of the most salient issues related to deck liability.
Liability to Licensees
In Georgia, liability respecting deck “issues” depends upon the status of the person injured. The first category is that of licensee. O.C.G.A. § 51-3-2 specifically defines liability to licensees. In Georgia, a licensee is a person on the property for that person’s benefit. Georgia law defines a licensee as a social guest: a person who is not on the property for a business purpose.
A property owner is liable for an injury to a licensee only if the property owner willfully and/or wantonly allows a dangerous static condition to cause injury to the licensee. If the property owner knows about, or has reason to know about, the dangerous condition and does not fix it, the owner is liable. If the owner fails to warn about danger, and a licensee is injured because of the danger, the law will consider the failure to fix or warn a willful or wanton act.
One of the key tenants of liability respecting a licensee is that the owner has no duty to inspect the premises. On the other hand, if the injury was the result of a building code violation, courts will find that the owner has constructive knowledge of the defect. As a result, the owner is liable.
A common defense in licensee cases is that the licensee had equal or superior knowledge concerning the defect. Notably, if there is a code violation, only the owner, not the visitor, has superior knowledge.
Liability to Invitees
An invitee, generally, is a person on the premises for the mutual benefit of the person and the owner. This person is typically a customer or vendor. In Georgia, an owner or occupier of land is liable to its invitees for injuries caused by its failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe.
This is basically a duty of ordinary care. And, though an owner or occupier is not an insurer of an invitee’s safety, the law does require that he use such diligence toward making the premises safe as an ordinarily prudent person would, in such ways as he or she would be accustomed to use the premises. This duty of ordinary care includes an obligation to inspect the premises for defects that could affect the safety of invitees.
O.C.G.A. § 51-3-1 specifically defines liability to invitees. Where an owner or occupier of land, by express or implied invitation, induces or leads others to come upon his premises for any lawful purpose, he is liable in damages to such persons for injuries caused by his failure to exercise ordinary care in keeping the premises and approaches safe.
Innkeepers owe a duty of utmost care to protect their customers from deck collapse injuries. They must inspect for problems, and warn customers when problems occur. Further, they have a duty to fix or repair deck problems.
Out-of-Possession Landlord Liability
Out-of-possession landlords are liable for a third party’s damages that result either from faulty construction of the premises. It can also be liable for failure to repair the premises.
O.C.G.A. § 44-7-14 governs liability in this area. A landlord’s liability ends if it does not possess, and does not have the right to possess, the property. However, the landlord is responsible for damages arising from defective construction. The landlord is also responsible for damages arising from the failure to keep the premises in good repair.
In summary, deck collapse will continue to be a problem that exists in society. And there are numerous issues related to liability with which lawyers, deck owners, and deck occupiers should be familiar. Ultimately, diligence and watchfulness on everyone’s part is the only way to reduce injuries related to deck defects.