New York City Building Collapse Accident Lawyer


What is a Building Collapse?

A building collapse is the intentional or unintentional breakdown of a structure’s support that causes it to fall down or cave in, and could be caused by many factors. We hear about building collapses in the news, both in the United States and in other countries, and some are more memorable in their own way than others. When we do hear of an event like a building collapse, we ask ourselves many questions. Why did this happen? Who was involved? What caused this? How many people were injured? How many are missing? While some collapses are intentional, as in the professional demolition of an old building, many building collapses are unintentional and accidental.

Perhaps the most vivid and horrific building collapses occurred on September 11, 2001 involving the Twin Towers. After these buildings were hit by planes, the collapses resulted in subsequent explosions, fires, and mass destruction of the buildings killing many inside, as well as those on the ground below. Over time, intensive studies and investigations have been launched to determine how best to build structures with the intent of preventing a building collapse in the future. In order to determine how buildings are constructed and why a building could collapse in the first place, it is important to know some history and causes.

The History of Building Collapses

Over 4,000 years ago, a Babylonian king published what could be considered the first book for establishing building codes. The publication outlined those specific codes that regulated the activity of the building contractors and stated the rules to which they must adhere in order to build a structure. The penalties for not adhering to those codes were severe. For instance, if a building collapsed and killed someone, that contractor would also be killed. If the son of an owner was killed, then the son of the builder would be killed. Although we have progressed significantly by imposing fines instead of death, this record set the stage of necessity for regulations that were to be implemented and followed. Today, cities and towns enforce their own sets of building codes. Organizations like the National Association of Home Builders develops regulations and guidelines, as well. Inspections and maintenance must be performed on a regular basis to uncover faulty areas of a building and generally allow the owner appropriate time to take care of any deficiencies. With these inspections, building codes, classes and certifications that determine a building fit for occupancy, why do we still see buildings collapse?

Causes of Building Collapses

Building collapses occur for various reasons, some intentional and others unintentional. In July 2013 an explosion fueled by the combination of a pilot light with bug spray chemicals caused a fire in New York’s Chinatown and partially collapsed a five-story building. In June 2013 a row of houses in Philadelphia collapsed after a gas leak and subsequent explosion. In 1981, the Hyatt Regency Kansas City experienced a collapsed walkway that fell onto another walkway below after supporting beams buckled. Some buildings collapse in the form of a “house of cards” where steel pushes outward and separates the beams from the floor. Once a top floor collapses onto the one below, the beams are pushed out again and again until the entire building has caved in and fallen to the ground. While some collapses may seem like fluke accidents, there are categories for most building collapses. These categories are:

  • Poor Design. Poor design often points its fingers to the engineer and his failure to take several factors into consideration such as how much weight or traffic will be placed on the highly-traveled area, or recommending improper materials for the type of structure.
  • Faulty Construction. Faulty construction can also be the fault of the engineer and poor practices of the construction workers who may perform inadequately or inconsistently.
  • Lack of Attention. Lack of attention during inspection could fail to uncover potential areas of the construction that need modification. Issues such as buckling columns or ill-supported beams could be overlooked or not discovered during a less-than-thorough inspection.
  • Poor Foundation and Structural Failure. For loads that are too weighty for the structure, buildings can sink into the ground if the foundation is poor. Decay and decomposition of materials that are not replaced can lead to lack of support over time.
  • Heavy loads. Heavy loads refer to elements that are compounded on a structure such as repeated snow or heavy rain that collects over time in a part of the structure like a roof. The weight becomes too much and the building collapses.
  • Fires and Explosions. Any incident that causes an explosion or fire has the ability to damage the building to the point of collapse.

What to do if a Building Collapses

Building collapses pose danger not only to those who may be in the building, but also to those who may be on the ground below when the building or parts of the building fall on them. While a collapse may come without warning to the ones in the building, there is little to be done once it happens unless there is sufficient time to exit the building safety. This may not always be possible, however, as exiting poses its own set of challenges. If you find yourself in the middle of a building collapse, here are some things you can do:

  • Pay attention to first responders at the scene—they will direct you to an escape route, or direct you to perform certain activities. Listen to them and follow their leads.
  • Never return to a partially-collapsed building to retrieve someone or to look for an item left behind.
  • Do not try to remove someone who is buried or partially buried without the guidance of an emergency responder or other professional. You could cause further injury to yourself and to the other victim.
  • Do not use stairs or elevators after a building collapses.
  • Shout for help if you are trapped under debris. Shout until you are heard.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with fabric or a mask so you do not continue to breathe possible toxins in the air that may have been released from the foundation or crumbling walls.

Building collapses occur suddenly and without warning. Other times the reason may be very evident. Yet, when a building collapses, the first course of action is to determine the cause, and this may not be so easy. Many questions are sure to unravel during the course of the investigation. If there was an explosion, what caused it? Was the building designed to withstand fire or heat? Were parts of the building suffering from decay or deterioration? Was the building deemed unfit for occupancy? Was the building owner cited during a routine inspection? If so, did he fail to take care of the problem due to expense, ignorance or misunderstanding? Dealing with an uncooperative owner of a building is challenging on its own.

If you have been injured or know someone who has been injured or died because of a building collapse, we invite you to take part in our Building Collapse and Accident Case Evaluation Form without any obligation. You can also contact us toll free at (855) TOP-FIRM to further discuss your case. After an initial consultation, we will be able to determine the steps and documentation to move forward with settling your case. Our New York City premises liability lawyers are standing by when you are ready to take the first step.