Ceiling collapses, especially when they occur in a residential unit often result in major if not catastrophic injuries. These are unexpected events because as tenants, we have the expectation that the structure in which we live is secure and free from defects. However, there are a number of factors ranging from construction defects, structural damage and improper maintenance and inspection etc. that may bring about a sudden ceiling collapse and lead to severe personal injuries. In some cases, this type of an incident may even result in the death of the building’s occupants. A ceiling collapse has the potential to not only leave you injured, but also without a home and wondering what steps to take next.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a ceiling collapse or if you have lost a loved one in a building accident, it is crucial that you seek the counsel and guidance of an experienced New York City premises liability lawyer who can help you hold the at-fault or negligent parties accountable as well as help you seek maximum compensation for your losses.
What Are the Signs of an Imminent Ceiling Collapse?
Often, there are at least a few indications that your ceiling is about to collapse. When some portion of the ceiling such as tile, plaster or certain fixtures crack, peel, come undone, etc., it is considered an avoidable accident, which should have been foreseen and/or prevented by the property owners or property managers, etc.
Here are some of the potential signs of an impending roof or ceiling collapse:
Sagging appearance: When there is a leaking pipe or some type of plumbing issue that leads to a leak, your roof may appear to sag. Other signs include water damage, spots, and cracks, missing screws or active leaks, etc.
Interior damage: Some signs of ceiling damage are visible inside the home such as ceiling cracks, misshapen ceilings, interior roof leaks, yellow stains, bubbling and mold formation. All or even some of these types of damage may cause the ceiling to become significantly weakened structurally and lead to a collapse.
Noises: It’s always a good idea to take any odd noises you hear such as creaking, cracking or popping seriously.
If you notice these signs and want to confirm if your ceiling is stable, there are a few checks you may do on your own. Measure the height of the ceiling where it meets the wall and then measure the ceiling height in the middle of the room. A variation in heights of 12 mm or more may indicate the plasterboard sheeting has detached from the ceiling joists.
Place a level over an area of the ceiling sheeting to see if there is unevenness anywhere in your ceiling. Also, check to see if there is a gap between the ceiling sheeting and the joists. This can only be done by accessing the ceiling space. Exercise caution when you do this because it may be hazardous. It is best to engage someone who is suitably qualified to carry out this job. Better yet, ask your landlord or property manager to send someone to take a look if you have reason to believe that your ceiling is damaged or at risk of collapsing.
Injuries Caused by Ceiling Collapse Accidents
Any incident that involves a ceiling collapse tends to result in major injuries. Here are some of the most common injuries New Yorkers suffer as a result of ceiling collapses.
Traumatic brain injuries: When a piece of the ceiling falls on your head, the consequences can be devastating. Traumatic brain injury typically results from a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. An object that penetrates the brain tissue can also cause traumatic brain injury. Serious traumatic brain injury can result in bruising, torn tissues, bleeding and physical damage to the brain, which may all cause long-term health complications or even prove fatal. Those who sustain these types of injuries often require lengthy and extensive rehabilitation.
Spinal cord damage: When a heavy object strikes the victim from above, there is also the potential for serious spinal cord damage. Some of the signs and symptoms of a serious spinal cord injury may include extreme back pain or pressure in your neck, head or back, weakness or paralysis in any part of your body, numbness, tingling or lack of sensation in your hands, fingers, feet or toes, loss of bladder or bowel control, difficulty with balance or walking, and impaired breathing. Spinal cord injuries may result in lifelong disabilities including paralysis.
Broken bone injuries: Struck-by incidents may also result in multiple fractures or broken bones. These types of injuries often require extensive physical therapy to help the injured victim regain strength and mobility in the affected body parts.
Internal injuries: Victims who are hit by a falling ceiling can also suffer major internal injuries – or injuries that damage the internal organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys. A severe injury to one of these vital organs may cause death.
What Should You Do If Your Ceiling Collapses?
There are several steps you can take to protect your rights if your ceiling caves in causing injuries to you and/or your family members. First, make sure you and/or anyone else who is injured gets prompt medical attention, treatment and care for the injuries sustained. It is best to get emergency care. The next step is to contact your property owner or property manager. Your home is unsafe at this point and you may have to make arrangements to stay somewhere else while your home is being repaired.
It is also very important that you document and photograph the condition right away before the place is cleaned up. If possible, you should have the open ceiling inspected by a building inspector or engineer to document what caused the leak and where the leak occurred. In these cases, a building owner or property manager may try to evade responsibility by stating that the damage was due to a “sudden leak,” which did not give them time to fix it. Or they may maintain that the leak or damage was caused by improper use of water fixtures by the tenant in the unit above yours. It is crucial that you speak to other tenants and neighbors to back up your claim and prove, in many cases, that the landlord’s or property manager’s assertions are not accurate, if that is in fact the case.
Obtain as many photos and video footage of the incident as you can. File a report right away with your property owner or property manager. Keep a copy of your report, which shows the date and time you made the report. Promptly contact an experienced New York premises liability lawyer who will help ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive fair compensation for your losses.
Who Can Be Held Liable?
In ceiling collapse cases that result in injuries, the property owner and/or the property manager may be held accountable. However, as with all premises liability cases, there are several elements that must be proved for the lawsuit to be successful. The plaintiff (the injured person) must show evidence that the building’s owner or managing agent had a duty of care to the tenant, that they breached or violated that duty of care, and that the breach of duty was the cause or a substantial factor for the injury. In New York State, the property owner has a duty of care to ensure the property’s structural integrity. A property owner/manager also bears a duty of care for the safety of those who are living in the home.
What Amounts to Breach of Duty?
A breach of duty is said to have occurred when there is a dangerous condition that the defendant (property owner/manager) knew or should have known about, but failed to repair. The existence of the dangerous condition must be proved. For example, a leak in the ceiling caused by pipes or plumbing concealed in the ceiling might cause the ceiling to weaken over time.
The plaintiff must prove in such a case that his or her managing agent and/or landlord knew or should have known about the condition and should have fixed it. So, if you observe a water leak, stains on the ceiling or mold, document it and bring it to your managing agent’s and landlord’s attention, but if they don’t respond, that is evidence that they knew about the problem and did not take action to correct the situation. Make your complaints in writing and be sure to save proof of delivery to the responsible parties.
When property owners and property managers choose to violate basic safety rules and standards of care, the consequences can be devastating. Some common types of negligence that may lead to ceiling collapses include lax inspection, poor maintenance and repair; failure to repair leaks in a timely manner; painting over problem areas, infestation by insects and vermin that may weaken structures; and violation of building codes and accepted construction practices, etc.
What Damages Can You Claim?
The value of your ceiling collapse case will typically depend on the nature and extent of your injuries, the damage caused to the home and the degree of negligence on the part of the property owner and/or manager and other parties involved. If you or a loved one has been injured due to a ceiling collapse, you may be entitled to receive the following damages:
Medical expenses: This includes any type of emergency transportation to the hospital such as ambulance or helicopter and costs related to surgery, hospitalization, cost of medical equipment, medications, etc. Save all of your medical bills and any types of invoices that document your medical expenses.
Rehabilitation costs: In addition to medical expenses, you may also be looking at rehabilitation costs, especially if you suffered major or catastrophic injuries such as brain injuries or spinal cord damage. Injured victims may require physical therapy, occupational therapy and other types of ongoing treatments, the costs of which may add up very quickly.
Lost income: This refers to any earnings and benefits you may have lost because of your injuries and the time it takes to recuperate from your injuries. It is important to keep track of your work days missed. If you are self-employed, maintain documentation of clients or business you may have lost as a result of your injuries. If you suffered catastrophic injuries that prevent you from returning to work, you may also seek compensation for lost future income.
Permanent injuries: If you have sustained permanent injuries or disabilities, you may be able seek compensation for such damages as well. Ceiling collapses can result in injuries that leave individuals with lifelong disabilities, preventing them from earning a livelihood and maintaining their quality of life.
Alternative housing expenses: If your home is being repaired, you will not be able to live there. The conditions may simply be too dangerous and unhealthy. In such cases, you will also be able to claim the money you spent to rent another place until the repairs are completed.
Past and future pain and suffering: These types of incidents not only have the potential to cause physical injuries, but also psychological and emotional trauma. Seeing one’s home in a severe state of disrepair can cause intense emotional distress. So, in such cases, victims may be able to seek damages for the physical pain and mental suffering they have endured.
Compensation for Injured Victims
If you or a loved one has been injured in a ceiling collapse accident, please contact the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm who can help you better understand your legal rights and options, and also fight hard to recover just compensation for you. Our law firm has recovered substantial dollar amounts for victims of these types of accidents.
Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury and medical malpractice cases in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case.
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