August 25, 2023
Who is At Fault if I’m Injured in a Collapsed Building?
By Jonathan Damashek
It should go without saying that your home and place of business should be safe for you to inhabit. In New York City, however, building collapses are an unfortunate reality. In 2023, one person was killed and five were reported injured after a Manhattan parking garage collapsed. A few weeks prior, a construction worker was killed by a collapsed wall at a SoHo demolition site.
Construction workers aren’t the only people at risk when a building collapses. Residents living near a collapsed building are often forced to evacuate in case the structure crumbles further. Identifying the liable party for injuries or fatalities caused by a falling building is critical. Under New York personal injury law, you could seek compensation from anyone whose negligence caused pain, suffering, or injuries. Learn more about collapsing buildings and their personal injury cases.
Why Do Buildings Collapse in NYC?
When buildings fall down, they could be ruled as partial or total collapses. A partial collapse happens when a portion of the building drops, such as the ceiling, staircase, or floor. A total collapse occurs when the structure’s core falls. In a total collapse, the entire building breaks down, not just individual floors or parts.
There are many reasons a building could collapse in New York City. Age of the building could be a large part of a collapse: after all, historic buildings from before World War II are still being rented (these buildings were built in 1880).
Other common causes of collapsed buildings in New York City include:
- Poor planning of building design
- Failure to follow construction regulations
- Errors made during construction
- Poorly installed elements, like roofs, decking, flooring, or stairs
- Lack of proper strength testing during construction
- Lack of protection against the elements (heavy rains, storms, floods, etc.)
- Too much weight inside the structure
- Failure to take safety precautions during construction, remodeling, or demolition
Some of these causes may combine with others to make a collapse more likely and, in some cases, more deadly. Understanding why a building might fall makes it easier to determine who could be held responsible after a collapse hurts you or a loved one.
Liability in Collapsed Building Cases
If a building’s collapse harms you, it’s important to figure out who is to blame for the accident—even if it seemed to occur under natural circumstances. Although earthquakes can happen in New York, they are rare and usually minor. Mother Nature may have played a part, but in most cases, there is an individual or entity whose negligence contributed to the collapse. These parties deserve to be held liable.
You should consider who built the building, whether it was inspected correctly, or who neglected to maintain it.
Possible liable parties for a building’s collapse could include:
- General contractors
- Property owners
- Equipment manufacturers
- Project managers
Injuries Caused by a Collapsing Building
There are various injuries that a collapsing building can cause. Not only can victims become trapped inside the fallen structure, but they could be hurt by falling debris.
If you’re in a collapsed building accident, you could experience broken bones, crushed internal organs, spinal cord injuries, head injuries, and inhibited breathing. Sometimes, a collapse may be connected to an explosion or fire. You could be burnt during the incident.
In Case of Emergency: Handling a Building Collapse
The city’s Emergency Management department has suggestions on how to respond to a collapsed building.
If possible, the department advises you to alert emergency personnel and exit the building. If you can’t leave the building, call 911 and get under a sturdy object like a strong table. The department warns you should wear a covering to block dust and remain as still as possible to avoid “kicking up dust.”
Use a flashlight or tap on a pipe to guide rescuers to your location. Avoid yelling as much as possible to mitigate dust inhalation.
If you can exit a collapsed building, do not attempt to return inside.
How to Recover Compensation After a Building Collapses
The circumstances of your case will determine what damages you can recover from your injuries. You could be arguing a premises liability case or have a case under one of New York’s labor laws. If you’re a resident of a building and a property owner isn’t maintaining it, a collapse could fall under premises liability.
If you were working at the time of your accident, you may apply for workers’ compensation benefits. Your economic damages, essentially your “out-of-pocket expenses,” should be covered through this “no-fault” system.
That means you medical care, wage replacement, long-term disability payments, and death benefits for surviving family members should be covered.
However, if the at-fault party was especially negligent, you may choose to pursue a third-party lawsuit, which could award you a larger settlement, one that also covers non-economic damages. That means the pain and suffering your accident has caused you, or a diminished quality of life, could be covered by a third-party lawsuit.
Proving a Third-Party Caused Your Injuries
A third-party lawsuit hinges on your ability to prove that the person or group in question was responsible for your injuries. You’ll need to work with a personal injury lawyer to investigate your accident. You’ll have to show that the defendant had a duty of care to make sure the building was safe.
You’ll need to prove that they didn’t act in a way that upheld that duty of care, and that anyone else in the same situation would have acted responsibly.
For instance, if you noticed cracks in a stairwell as you walked through a parking garage and notified the property owner, they should take steps to either mitigate the damage or ensure it won’t lead to an accident.
If they do not inspect the potential hazard or take steps to fix it, they could be considered negligent.
If you’re injured at work because of a collapsing building, the general contractor could be held responsible if they did not ensure you had a safe work environment.
You should call a construction accident lawyer or a premises liability lawyer to discuss your case details and work on establishing a strategy for investigating your injuries’ cause.
Call an NYC Personal Injury Lawyer
When you’re hurt by a collapsed building incident, you deserve compensation for your losses. You could be facing long-term consequences, ones that could have been avoided if the at-fault party had been responsible for maintaining a safe building. With the help of a skilled collapsed building lawyer, you could secure damages from the people responsible to help you move forward.
The attorneys at Hecht, Kleeger & Damashek, P.C., have helped countless clients recover millions for their injuries. We understand how traumatic these accidents can be, and we know how to investigate and build a case against the people responsible for your losses. We’ll work with you to ensure you have the best chance of recovering what you’re owed to put the accident behind you.