People enjoying the privacy of their apartments take it for granted that they are safe from injury, especially from the ceiling above. However, that may not always be the case. Ceiling collapses are more common than one would think, especially in low-income housing. Most ceiling collapses are caused by water absorption from leaky roofs, or overflowed toilets, showers, or bathtubs. Water in ceilings can accumulate slowly, from slow leaks or rapidly from a broken pipe. Either way, it creates a danger to people sitting or standing below the ceiling. In fact, it could be deadly.
Devastating Examples of Ceiling Collapses
In 2013, the roof of a supermarket in Riga, Latvia, collapsed and killed 54 shoppers. In 2014, four college students were killed and over fifty were trapped in an auditorium in Gyeonggi, South Korea, after its ceiling toppled inwards. Even, people in Bergen County, New Jersey are not immune from falling ceilings. Recently, an employee of Vintage ’61 on Hudson Street in Ridgewood, was hospitalized after a portion of the store’s ceiling fell on top of her.
The Problem With Ceiling Materials
There are many subtle ways that a ceiling may become exposed to water: culprits include excess condensation from air conditioners, uncleaned spills, and failure to keep the shower curtain inside the bathtub when the faucet is running. The weather can also cause your ceiling to lose its structural integrity, particularly if it is exposed to heavy rains from thunderstorms, floods, and hurricanes.
A sudden ceiling collapse can cause serious injuries because of weighted force. For example, a single piece of sheet rock measuring 4 x 8-foot sheet of standard 5/8-inch-thick drywall weighs 70.4 pounds, with ultralight drywall weighing 51.2 pounds. The weight could easily double when wet. As the sheet rock accumulates water, it sags and becomes unstable causing the ceiling to collapse with the nails remaining in the studs. The same holds true for suspension ceilings, however, given that the suspension tiles are usually 2 x 2 feet, the weight is substantially less.
Drywall replaced lath and plaster in the mid-20th century as the most common material used for interior surfaces and ceilings. While in many ways drywall is the superior alternative to lath and plaster, it is highly susceptible to water damage. It absorbs water upon exposure, and, because water is so heavy, the ceiling may buckle under the extra weight. Before the ceiling collapses, water may cause stains, cracks, or mold growth to appear on the ceiling. People often complain to their landlords about leaking ceilings. Landlords, often ignore the problem because replacing a roof or bathroom fixture can cost a lot of money.
Most Common Injuries From Ceiling Collapses
- traumatic brain injuries
- spinal cord injuries
- herniated discs
- bone fractures
- exacerbation of previous lung or breathing issues
Proving Negligence in a Ceiling Collapse Case
Property managers are responsible for maintaining their property, as required by New Jersey State Building and Construction Codes (BOCA) and the NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Code. Landlords should complete regular inspections to ensure that their property abides by the DCA’s safety standards. These inspections may expose obvious warning signs, such as mold, but clogged gutters and leaking HVAC or plumbing systems may also indicate a damaged ceiling. A manager’s failure to properly maintain their property may lead to a ceiling collapse that injures a tenant, a patron and unfortunately their children. If such an incident occurs, the manager will be held liable. A ceiling may also collapse due to poor construction, in which case the construction contractor would be held liable for the negligence of its employees.
In New Jersey, tenants have a right to reside within properly maintained apartments because leases usually require landlords to make structural repairs. Failing to make such repairs is negligence and when it causes injury, the landlord is responsible. In fact, since the safety of the ceiling may be within the exclusive control of the landlord, the injured tenant may not have to prove negligence because of the legal doctrine of Res ipsa loquitur. Res ipsa loquitur is a Latin phrase that means “the thing speaks for itself.” In personal injury law, the concept of res ipsa loquitur (or just “res ipsa” for short) operates as an evidentiary rule that allows plaintiffs to establish a rebuttable presumption of negligence on the part of the landlord. That means, the landlord must prove that they were not at fault.
Contacting a Personal Injury Law Firm
If you or a loved one have recently been injured due to a ceiling collapse, you have the right to the landlord or the property owner for your injuries and financial losses. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C, may be able to help you. Please call us now for a free and confidential case evaluation at 1-800LAW-2000.
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