In 2012, a balcony collapsed during a graduation party in Montgomery, Alabama, injuring eight people. A jury recently awarded the victims a total of almost $25 million for their injuries, underscoring the need for property owners to understand the kind of liability that can result from this type of accident. In this case the owner was not even present or involved, but we assume he was the one held accountable.
The graduation party was being hosted at an apartment complex, and there were more than 50 people in attendance. It is estimated that there were 30 to 40 people on the balcony at the time of the collapse. The owner of the apartment had let a friend use his house for the party, and had been informed only 12-15 people would be in attendance. Apparently, the group on the balcony had gathered in one spot (maybe around a food or drink station), which overloaded the support structure for the balcony.
Damages Awarded to Four Victims
The only eight people of the large group on the balcony fell 12 feet to the ground, and several suffered broken legs from the impact. One victim required extensive hospitalization and rehabilitation for his injuries. $250,000 of the damage award was punitive damages, but there is no disclosure of who was found liable for the accident. One can assume that the homeowner’s insurance will cover the claim depending on the policy limits in place.
The nearly $25 million in damages was awarded to the victims by a jury in a circuit court trial and the award was allocated among only four victims as follows:
It appears that only victims with significant injuries were compensated by the award, and the amounts depended on the extent of those injuries and their effect on the individual. In cases, like this damage awards can be formulated based on several types of costs:
As in this case, a jury can also award punitive damages to punish the defendant for their lack of care and failure to prevent the accident. The punitive damages seem insignificant in this case given the other damage amounts awarded. However, the jury appears to have been sympathetic to the victims based on the amounts awarded for their injuries, although it is hard to know the exact formula used to arrive at the award.
In any event, it is interesting to see that a balcony collapse case can bring such significant compensation even when the group of people easily exceeded any reasonable estimate of the balcony’s load capacity. Nonetheless, in cases like this, a property owner’s failure to monitor the situation or provide adequate warnings can lead to liability. A balcony that is overloaded presents a clear danger to anyone present, and it is the owner’s duty to make efforts to anticipate and prevent any type of collapse that would injure visitors to their property.