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Austin Balcony Collapse: A Case Study — Liability Of The Contractor

In the first two parts of this short balcony collapse series, I’ve looked at the potential liability of the owner and the liability of the engineer or architect that designed the balcony.

Today, I’ll try and answer, “Does the builder or contractor have any potential liability relating to the balcony collapse?”

And the answer is, “Yes.”   When a contractor or builder doesn’t build a building or other structure properly, then the builder faces liability for injuries caused by the improper construction.

Like the cases against the designer, these cases are often negligence cases.  To prevail, the injured person will have to prove that the builder’s improper actions led to the injuries.  From what’s been reported in the news so far, it seems clear that the builder didn’t get the proper permits and inspections for the work.

But the liability of a contractor can go much further than that.  Did the builder construct the deck in accordance with the design?  Did the builder use the types of materials called for in the plans — the right support, joists, fasteners, etc?  Did the builder make sure that he hired competent employees/contractors to work on the project?  All of these will need to examined in any future litigation.

Another potential problem that builders face in a number of these residential construction jobs is that the builder tries to act as the designer, either formally drawing up plans or just having a rough sketch or idea of the finished product in mind.  These would be clear mistakes by the builder.  Most builders aren’t qualified to make the engineering calculations necessary to determine what design is necessary to support the expected balcony load, and they likely know they aren’t qualified.  In these situations, the builder might be opening himself to liability not only for the actual damages the injured people sustain, but also possible punitive damages.

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