Deck Injury Cases that Helped Shape the Law
Decks can be defective in a number of ways, most prominently involving the stairs, railings, boards, and supports (attachment). Below are cases important in several potential causes of deck injury.
In Chisholm v. Fulton Supply Co., 361 S.E.2d 540, 184 Ga. App. 378 (Ga. Ct. App. 1987), the Georgia court of appeals addressed a deck injury involving stairs. In Chisolm, the plaintiff was exiting a supply store when he slipped and fell on the stairs. The plaintiff could give no reason for his fall, loosely claiming that the stairs were somehow defective.
In this case, the plaintiff was an invitee, to whom the property owner owed a duty of ordinary care, including inspecting for defects. Indeed, the evidence showed that the owner regularly swept the stairs and never noticed a defect. Further, the evidence showed that the plaintiff routinely visited the store, traversing the stairs. Thus, the plaintiff had knowledge similar to the owner concerning any potential defect. Finally, the evidence showed that the stairs complied with the building code. Under the circumstances, the owner was not liable for a defect that may or may not have existed.
Railing is a critical component of any deck, as, obviously, it provides a boundary that prevents falls off the sides of the structure. In Rogers v. Woodruff, 328 Ga.App. 310, 761 S.E.2d 852 (Ga. Ct. App. 2014), the court addressed an allegedly defective rail. In Rogers, a social guest, and therefore a licensee, fell to the ground when he leaned against a rail that broke away.
The undisputed evidence showed that although one person testified that he had previously noticed that the rail was wobbly, the defendant was not aware of any problem with the rail. And the plaintiff himself testified that he saw no visible problem with the rail. Accordingly, there was no evidence of actual knowledge.
Additionally, there was no evidence by which a jury could find constructive knowledge. Although the plaintiff presented expert testimony to establish that the deck rail did not meet building-code standards in 2008, the expert witness did not know when the deck was built. Instead, the undisputed evidence showed that the deck was built by a prior owner of the property in 1996 and that the county inspected the improvement at that time. And there was no evidence to show that the deck did not meet applicable building-code standards when it was constructed in 1996 and inspected by the county.
A defect in deck boards could also lead to deck injury. In Ruffin v. Ruffin, 285 S.E.2d 261, 159 Ga. App. 830 (Ga. Ct. App. 1981), a minor, who was a social guest, fell through a rotten board on a dock. The plaintiff alleged that the owner had failed in his duty to inspect the dock to discover what amounted to a hidden peril. Yet, there was evidence that the owner had inspected the dock on occasion and had no actual or constructive knowledge of the rotten board. The court of appeals affirmed a grant of summary judgment to the property owner.
Finally, the case of Aldredge v. Byrd (Ga. App., March 30, 2017) is the latest appellate case involving deck liability. This case involved the classic deck injury situation, when the entire deck detaches from a main structure and falls. In this case, the deck had been nailed to a house, which was then occupied by a rental customer. Over time, the deck ledger, which was the component nailed to the house, rotted. But this rot was not visible with routine inspection.
One day, the renter hosted a party, where numerous people were on the deck. The deck separated from the house and collapsed, severely injuring the plaintiff. Under the circumstances, the owner was an out-of-possession landlord, who owed third parties a duty to repair the deck only if he knew or should have known about a defective condition. A code enforcement officer inspected the premises after the collapse. He deposed that he did not observe any defect in the deck, the exterior walls, or any other portion of the premises which would have been visible to or observable by anyone prior to the deck collapse. He also determined that the premises were in compliance with applicable building codes. As such, the owner was entitled to summary judgment.
These cases, and many others, helped shape the law on Atlanta Deck Injury. We have achieved significant results for our clients in these cases. Contact us so we can help you.