Is a Building Code Violation Grounds for a Premises Liability Claim?

Exposed wires with wire-nuts, dangling from a hole in the ceiling. Building code violation concept

In Washington, there are various codes, statutes, and ordinances in place at the state and local levels to help ensure buildings are well-maintained and free from hazards. When building code violations occur, serious injuries can be sustained by those who are visitors on the premises. In the event a property owner’s building code violation caused an accident that resulted in a visitor’s injury, the owner could be held liable for their negligence in a premises liability claim.

Common Types of Building Code Violations That Can Lead to Accidents

Building codes are in place for all types of structures in Washington. They may apply to residential homes, hotels, restaurants, retail stores, apartment buildings, office complexes, and commercial buildings. If building codes are not followed, there are a wide variety of hazards that can arise which may lead to accidents.

Dangerous conditions that are commonly caused by building code violations can include the following:

  • Structural defects
  • Collapsing ceilings
  • Weak beams
  • Broken handrails
  • Defective wiring
  • Improper elevator or escalator installation
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Poorly maintained balconies
  • Broken steps
  • Stairs that do not meet size requirements

When building code violations take place, they can cause many different types of injuries, depending on the facts and circumstances. The injuries that can result are often serious and require extensive medical treatment and time lost from work. Common injuries in connection with building code violations can include broken bones, burns, lacerations, soft tissue injuries, nerve damage, traumatic brain injury, disfigurement, permanent disability, and fatality in severe cases. Significantly, many of the injuries that occur may have been preventable by the property owner exercising due care and properly maintaining their premises in accordance with the applicable building codes.

Do You Need to Assert a Building Code Violation for a Successful Premises Liability Claim?

If you’ve been hurt on someone else’s property, you don’t necessarily need to show a building code violation occurred to obtain compensation for your damages. In a premises liability claim, you must establish that the owner of the property, or another party responsible for maintaining it, was negligent. This can be demonstrated by showing 1) the owner had a duty of care to keep their premises in a safe condition, 2) the owner breached their duty due to carelessness or negligence, 3) the breach caused your injury, and 4) you incurred damages as a result.

Every property owner has a duty to protect visitors on their premises from reasonably foreseeable harm. They can be held liable for negligence if a guest’s injury was caused by a hazardous condition that they knew about but failed to repair in a timely manner. A property owner or other responsible party can also be held accountable in a personal injury action if they should have known about a dangerous condition through reasonable inspection — or failed to warn about a hazard by placing a sign or blocking off the area where the dangerous condition existed.

Negligence Per Se and Building Code Violations

Unlike other jurisdictions, Washington State does not recognize the doctrine of negligence per se for all types of premises liability accidents. Under this doctrine, the burden would be on the property owner to show they were not negligent — rather than the victim being required to prove the defendant’s negligence. However, Washington law specifies that if a property owner’s breach of duty as imposed by a statute or ordinance caused the victim’s injury, a court may consider such breach as evidence of negligence.

Nevertheless, there are two situations where negligence per se is recognized in Washington premises liability cases. Under RCW 5.40.050, an owner’s breach of duty in connection with an electrical fire safety statute or ordinance relating to the use of smoke alarms will be considered negligence per se. In other words, if your injuries arose due to a fire caused by a building owner’s failure to comply with the statutory requirements for electrical outlets, wiring, or appliances, there is a rebuttable presumption that they were negligent — and you would not be required to prove liability in court. In such cases, negligence would be presumed under the doctrine of negligence per se simply because the building code violation occurred.

Contact an Experienced Washington Premises Liability Attorney

An injury caused by a property owner’s building code violation can have a significant physical, emotional, and financial impact on your life. It’s important to have an experienced legal advocate by your side who can work to recover the maximum compensation you deserve in a personal injury lawsuit. With locations in Burien and Bellevue, Herron Law Office, PLLC is dedicated to providing knowledgeable representation to premises liability accident victims throughout the state of Washington. We welcome you to contact us for a consultation by calling (425) 600-2580.

Categories: Premises Liability