Building Code Violations Are Evidence of Negligence
The reasons for building codes are many and varied. Although not all building codes are related to safety, a recent court decision found that failure to comply with or follow building codes could be evidence of negligence in a trip and fall case.
The case involved an elderly man who was exiting a Quest Diagnostics office, trying to get to his vehicle (parked in a handicapped space) in the parking lot. The man alleged that there was a raised curb that blocked direct access to his handicapped space, and that Florida building codes require that there be direct access to handicapped parking from the entrance of a facility. The complaint alleged that the codes required that the curb be cut (that there be a break in the curb), which would have allowed the victim to get directly to his vehicle.
Expert Testimony Excluded
The victim presented an expert witness, who confirmed that the failure to provide a break in the curb was a violation of building code. However, the court did not let the expert testify, and threw out the expert’s testimony. The court’s reasoning was that the part of the building code that required a break in a curb and which requires direct access to handicapped spaces, is a code that relates to “accessibility,” and not “safety.”
The court also relied on cases from the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which deal with access for the disabled, but which do not directly address safety issues.
As such, the Court deemed the expert’s opinion to be irrelevant, essentially destroying the victim’s case. The court entered a verdict for the defendant, before the jury even had the chance to weigh the facts and make its own decision.
Appellate Court Overrules Decision
The victim appealed. The appellate court noted that courts have historically been able to consider violations of building codes as evidence of a defendant’s negligence (even if such violations are not conclusive evidence of negligence). Taking the decision out of the jury’s hands was error by the trial court, as juries have often deliberated about whether codes were violated, and whether violation of codes caused a victim’s injury.
Trying to parse whether parts of the code were for access or safety was flawed, according to the appellate court, because there was nothing in the plain language of the codes that made that distinction.
Furthermore, even if a part of the code was specifically designed to promote access for the disabled, that does not mean that a given part of the building code does not also relate to safety.
The court also noted the longstanding rule that as long as a defendant creates a foreseeable zone of risk, the case should get to a jury. The appellate court overruled the trial court, and sent the case back to the trial court to have it heard by a jury.
Contact our West Palm Beach personal injury attorneys at the Celeste Law Firm today for help if you have been injured in a fall, in a car accident, through malpractice, or by a defective product.