Earlier this month, a fire escape collapsed and caused a fatal accident that took the life of one man and seriously injured two women. The three victims were attending a birthday party on the third floor of the John C. Bell apartment building on South 22nd Street in Philadelphia. They went outside to the fire escape to smoke cigarettes. The landing came loose and collapsed. The victims fell approximately 35 feet to the ground. All three were taken to the hospital. The 22 year old man suffered serious head and neck injuries and later died in the hospital. The 25 and 26 year old women suffered broken bones in their backs. *Source: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com (Man Dies After Rittenhouse Square Fire Escape Collapses)
After the accident, Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) was at the scene investigating the cause of the accident. L&I has requested the building owners to produce an engineering report.
According to L&I, the fire escape may not have been inspected in more than 50 years. The Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code does not require L&I to conduct inspections of fire escapes, such as the one involved in this fatal fall accident. Inspections are required at the time of installation or when someone complains. No one has complained about the fire escape since the building was converted into apartments.
If L&I is not required to inspect old fire escapes, such as the one involved in this fatal accident, then who is responsible? The answer is the owner/landlord of the building.
Per the Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code, it is the duty of the building owner to maintain the property and make sure that the fire escapes are in good condition. Fire escapes are supposed to be clear of debris, snow, etc. so that they can be safely used in an event of an emergency.
In this tragic situation, it is likely that the owner/landlord either did not inspect the fire escape or did not properly inspect the fire escape. If the owner/landlord did inspect the fire escape, it can be argued that whoever conducted the inspection should have noticed that the fire escape was in need of repair or maintenance.
Even though Philadelphia L&I and the Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code do not require periodic inspections of fire escapes, the 2012 International Fire Code (IFC) may apply in a landlord building accident lawsuit, or it may be argued that the IFC provides a reasonable standard for inspection of fire escapes, and therefore a landlord/owner who fails to conduct any inspections whatsoever is liable. For example, section 1126.96.36.199 of the 2012 International Fire Code provides:
Fire escape stairs and balconies shall be examined for structural adequacy and safety in accordance with Section 1104.16.5 by a registered design professional or others acceptable to the fire code official every five years, or as required by the fire code official. An inspection report shall be submitted to the fire code official after such examination.
If you were injured in an apartment building due to the owner or landlord’s negligence and would like to know your legal rights, feel free to call Dan O’Brien to schedule a free consultation. 877.944.8396