A slip and fall accident can happen almost anywhere. When your fall results in medical bills and other damages, you may have no choice but to file a claim with the property owner. But, before you can receive compensation, you’ll have to prove your injuries were caused by the owner’s negligence.
Proving negligence can be difficult, especially if the property owner says your own carelessness caused your injury. The case may become a matter of how much evidence you can get against the property owner, versus how much he can get against you. Proving the owner violated the state building code will go a long way toward winning your case.
Evidence and Liability
If a building code violation exists, you must get solid evidence of it to prove the property owner’s liability. Without documented evidence, it’s just your word against his.
Although code violation cases are not the same as strict liability cases, they are a close cousin. In strict product liability cases, the injured party doesn’t have to prove the product manufacturer was negligent. The defective product itself is proof of the manufacturer’s negligence. This evidence is rock solid, as is proof of a building code violation.
State Building Codes and Inspectors
The original planners of cities, towns, and other municipal jurisdictions created local laws and ordinances for safe building construction and maintenance. Today, most follow the International Building Code (IBC) standard. These codes make sure building construction and maintenance is safe for the general public.
To ensure code enforcement, many jurisdictions created separate departments to inspect buildings. Depending on the size of the jurisdiction, a code enforcement department can employ anywhere from one, to hundreds of inspectors.
The inspectors rely on code books, which are public record. You can find them at your local town hall, records building, or city planning department. Many larger jurisdictions have their building codes online.
Get a complete list of state building codes here.
Find the codes that apply to your case, and look for the specific violation that caused your slip and fall accident.
Building codes set out the standards a commercial or residential property owner must maintain to ensure the safety of visitors. When a code inspector checks a property, her job is to make sure the structure and grounds comply with all applicable codes. If not, the owner may receive a warning, citation, or red flag to repair the violation.
In a personal injury claim, the existence of a building code violation immediately assigns negligence to the property owner. The violation publicly highlights a dangerous condition. When an inspector issues a citation, it all but cements the owner’s liability.
Reporting a Building Code Violation
Building code violations often come to the attention of code inspectors through complaints filed by tenants, their visitors, and people conducting legitimate business on a property. Violations often reflect problems such as:
- Broken staircases
- Missing or broken handrails
- Handicapped access problems
- Crumbling ceilings
- Fire code violations
- Other dangerous conditions
Contact Local Code Enforcement
If you’ve been injured on commercial or residential property, and know your injury was a direct result of a building code violation, contact your local code enforcement department and ask to speak directly with an inspector.
You may have to be persistent. Don’t allow an inspector to delay or give excuses why they can’t address your complaint. Your slip and fall case depends on the inspector’s cooperation.
If you’ve already done some research, and know your injury was a direct result of a specific code violation, tell the inspector the chapter and section that was violated. That will certainly let her know you’re serious. Describe your injury and tell the inspector the details of the accident.
If you previously reported the violation, bring it up to the inspector. The inspector does not want to be in a position where she’s received previous complaints about a code violation, but never visited the property to investigate the claims. That’s especially true if someone is injured by a previously reported safety concern.
Collect Evidence at the Scene
Ask the inspector to meet you at the site of your injury. Before the inspector arrives, take photos of the defect or dangerous condition, and surrounding area. If possible, take photos when the accident occurs; defects are often repaired by property owners quickly afterward.
Go door to door and get the contact information of people living with the same violation. Even if they’ve never reported it, or were never injured, just having their support will be very helpful when negotiating your insurance settlement.
Take statements from tenants and others who’ve dealt with the dangerous condition. Ask them to write down what they know about the defect or safety problem. Tell them to include any injuries they, close friends, or family members suffered, even if they were just close calls. If they previously reported the incident, have them write that down as well.
You want as many witness statements as you can get. Make sure they sign and date their statement at the bottom of each page, which makes it legally valid.
When the code inspector arrives, tell her how the accident happened, and how you were injured. If you fell as a result of a broken staircase, show her where you fell and even what step you fell on. If you fell due to a missing handrail, show her where the handrail is missing.
If the inspector issues a warning, a notice of violation, or red flags the property, make sure you get a copy. If you can’t get one immediately, you can pick up a copy at the code enforcement department.
Tracking the Case
Follow up on what happens after a warning or citation is issued. You can check with the building code department and local municipal court to track it. If there’s a conviction, it will be there. Collect all available documentation to use as leverage in your settlement negotiations, or as evidence in a lawsuit.
Although a citation issued to a property owner is beneficial for your case, a conviction for that violation is even better. A claims adjuster can’t argue with a court conviction on a county or state building code violation – it proves negligence. It shifts the argument from questions of liability, to the amount of compensation.
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