An Austin, Texas condominium was the site of another balcony collapse due to the excess weight placed on inadequate supports by a large group of partygoers. At the time of the collapse, about 30 people were gathered on the second floor balcony of the townhouse. Although the balcony was 400 square feet, it was not designed to hold that many people at once, and the metal supports were fastened in a way that made the balcony weak. The worst injuries were broken bones, but the incident underscored the very real hazard presented by poorly constructed balconies, especially when it comes to social events.
Balcony Collapses: The Party Hazard
When people think of all the dangers associated with all-night parties, the balcony is not at the top of the list. More common are drunken driving accidents, excess alcohol consumption, drug overdose and fights. But given the fact that so many balcony collapses happen during parties it seems that hosts should be more aware of the risk. The collapse in Austin happened at 4am in the morning, so it is safe to assume that there was some alcohol involved. The balcony is a favorite place to put a keg of beer or food, so people tend to congregate together and it is easy for a crowd to form.
At this point, the host of the party has some responsibility to warn people not to overload the balcony. If the host is just renting, they have no way of knowing whether the balcony meets building codes or was well constructed. Rarely will a landlord instruct a tenant on the number of people that a balcony will hold, or its weight limit. It is usually only after the fact that an inspection reveals a low weight limit or poor construction methods. In the case of the Austin accident, the other condominiums had smaller balconies and the one that collapsed seemed to have been customized. Even if it were an inviting place to gather, 30 people seems excessive for such a small space, especially if they are dancing or moving around a lot.
The Case for Liability: Who Is At Fault?
Most balconies are designed to accommodate a few people at a time, who just want to relax in the fresh air. It seems unfair to blame the contractor or owner of a property when the balcony is being used in a way that is outside its original purpose. The tenant or host of the condo also has a responsibility for the safety of guests.
Of course, any liability of the owner for an accident would hinge upon whether the owner could reasonably anticipate that a tenant would have a large group on the balcony. In a college town where parties are frequent, it is not too difficult to make a case that this type of danger is foreseeable. If so, then steps should have been taken to reinforce the balconies or at least provide adequate warning to tenants and guests. Without these steps, both the tenant and property owner could be held liable for damages.