Building Code Violations Resulting in Injury

Landlords and other building owners in North Carolina have a responsibility to ensure that their properties are safe for invitees (and sometimes even trespassers) and that the structures on site adhere to proper building codes.
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When they do not and someone suffers a serious injury as a result, it may be appropriate to file a premises liability lawsuit.

Like many states, North Carolina does not subscribe to the legal theory of strict liability. That means just because a person has been injured on another person’s property does not make them automatically liable for compensation. Your attorney will have to prove that the property owner or manager knew about the hazardous condition (or should have known), failed to take any reasonable steps to remedy the situation and that in turn proximately caused your injury.

One way we can show that a property owner knew or should have known of a hazard is if there were building code violations. Structures have to adhere to certain state and local guidelines, depending on the kind of structure it is and when it was built. The North Carolina building code includes:

  • Limitations on occupancy amount and type;
  • Rules for lighting and ventilation;
  • Requirements concerning means of ingress and egress;
  • Rules regarding permissible materials;
  • Guidelines for chimneys, heating appliances and electrical systems;
  • Other measures deemed necessary for the protection of occupants, neighbors and the general public.

An example of a violation would be failure to maintain electrical system, which results in a fire that causes injury. Another would be failure to maintain proper lighting in a stairwell, causing someone to miss a step, fall and be injured.

Of course, rules are different for commercial properties than residential, and there have been a few instances where this has caused some confusion as to which code landlords were supposed to be following.

An out-of-state ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently answered this question by essentially splitting it down the middle, holding that distinct portions of a mixed-use property can be treated as distinct and different structures under the state’s building code.

The case involved the serious injury incurred by a drunk tenant of a mixed-use building who climbed the exterior stairs of his building, leaned against the guardrail and fell when the guardrail broke.

One of the primary questions raised in the case was whether a building with both residential and commercial components falls entirely under the section of the code pertaining to commercial structures. The court ruled that it didn’t, and that residential building code standards could apply.

The other question was whether it mattered that the plaintiff wasn’t injured in a fire, even though the building code that was violated was intended for that specific protection. The court said it didn’t matter, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

As this case shows, establishing liability in North Carolina slip-and-fall cases is not always a simple matter. Trust your case to a lawyer who is familiar with building codes, case law and your rights.

Contact the Winston-Salem premise liability lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Sheehan v. Weaver, April 10, 2014, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

More Blog Entries:
Mann v. Northgate Investors, LLC – Landlord Premise Liability, Feb. 23, 2014, Winston-Salem Premise Liability Lawyer Blog

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