In 2003, the deadliest balcony collapse in US history killed 13 people and injured 57 others. The collapse took place in Chicago, Illinois in an apartment building, and was responsible for raising awareness about the dangers of overcrowded or poorly maintained balconies in the city. The accident brought a new wave of balcony inspections in the city, and led to more stringent structural standards for balcony construction.
In this accident it was discovered that there were problems in the construction of the balcony, although the number of people on the balcony at the time of collapse was a major factor. There were about 50 people on the third floor balcony, all attending a party. Some reports said a few of the people were jumping up and down and shaking the balcony, until it broke free of the building.
The third floor balcony created a domino effect when it fell, taking down both the second and third floor balconies below. More than a hundred people were dragged down into the basement from the three balconies, where many of them were trapped under debris.
Poor Construction Contributes to Collapse and Invites Legal Actions
Although the balcony was overcrowded, there were several design and construction defects found during the investigation. The surface area of the balcony was too large and the support structure was flawed and weak, violating the city codes for construction.
As a result there was legal action brought by the city of Chicago against the owner of the apartment building and the contractor who built the balconies. Fines totaled over $100,000 from the city and the owner faced 27 separate lawsuits from victims of the accident. In addition to the lawsuits, the building was labeled uninhabitable until all balconies had been replaced with new metal structural supports.
Although the owner claimed overcrowding was the sole cause of the collapse, he took steps to reinforce the balconies of other similar buildings that he owned in Chicago. The building owner also put up notices prohibiting parties on the private balconies, presumably to limit his liability for future accidents.
Of course, the inspection of balconies in the city became a priority after the accident, and resulted in discovery of over 1000 similar defects in other buildings.
Chicago Balcony Collapse Becomes the Stage For Final Episode of ER
The collapse was so sensational that it formed the storyline for an episode of ER, which was set in Chicago. The show used this very real disaster to showcase the departure of one of the show’s top stars. The entry of this balcony collapse into the arena of pop culture probably did a lot to raise awareness around this type of accident, and how even well constructed balconies can collapse when too many people are gathered.