Building Collapse Attorneys

Building Collapse

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Building Collapse Attorneys

A building can suddenly collapse for many different reasons: faulty construction; termite damage; rot; damage caused by the weight of snow, ice, or rain over time; the weight of people or personal property; blasts; vibrations; or decay. 

Whatever the underlying cause, however, those in charge of the structure could have prevented it, had the proper measures been taken and maintained. Buildings must be constructed to meticulous standards that take into account disasters and other threats to the structure. Sometimes, corners are cut during the planning, construction, or maintenance of a building. Getting to the bottom of why a building collapsed requires a lengthy investigation with assistance from architecture and engineering experts. It also requires a resourceful law firm that can fund the investigation and seek accountability from the parties responsible. If you or someone you love may have been injured or affected by faulty construction, please contact us right away.

Causes of Building Collapses

Buildings, no matter how solidly they’re constructed, don’t last forever. The average lifespan of a conventionally-built masonry and wood building is about 120 years. Modern buildings made from reinforced concrete and glass only last about half as long. And the typical big box retail store may only last for 30 years before it’s torn down and replaced. 

Cost is a major reason why we “don’t build them like we used to.” In older areas such as Philadelphia and Brooklyn, traditional brick-style homes with masonry structures are being replaced by wooden frame structures that aren’t nearly as strong, but much cheaper to construct. Environmental impact assessments also play a role in construction material choice and design parameters. 

Buildings of any age and composition can collapse unexpectedly, whether due to old age or premature breakdown. In addition to age and condition, natural forces and human negligence play a role in many building collapses. A study on building failures in the United States looked at hundreds of incidents and identified the most frequent principal causes, which include: 

  • Design deficiencies
  • Construction deficiencies
  • Maintenance deficiencies/lack of maintenance
  • Material deficiencies
  • External factors (such  as rain, wind, and snow)
  • Foundation settlement
  • Soil problems
  • Impacts from external objects 

The study found that collapses happened most frequently in low-rise buildings (including apartments, warehouses, offices, stores, houses, and commercial buildings) and multistory apartment and office buildings. Of note, the study states in its conclusion there was an increasing number of failures over time, and that most failures occurred within 30 – 60 years of service life. “This pattern suggests that construction failures play a dominant role in changing failure trends,” the study concludes. 

Specific construction deficiencies associated with building collapses were: 

  • Improper renovation
  • Problems during demolition
  • Poor workmanship
  • Unsafe excavation operations
  • Excavation work on an adjacent building
  • Underground excavations
  • Issues with temporary structures used in construction 

Firefighters, because they may be the first responders to a building collapse, are well-versed in the signs and characteristics of collapses. According to, a resource for fire and rescue professionals, these signs include: 

  • Building age and lack of proper maintenance
  • Weather and natural disasters
  • Improper alterations
  • Construction site collapses
  • Gas explosions
  • Fires
  • Vehicles crashing into buildings 

Building Codes and Building Collapses

Building codes are minimum construction standards put in place to protect the safety of occupants and visitors. From the foundation to the roof, there are building codes for every aspect of construction and for every type of structure. Building codes address not only structural aspects, such as building materials, but also features like plumbing, electric, fire safety, lighting, ventilation, and energy use. 

Building codes are regularly updated to address the latest technological construction advances and, in some cases, to prevent a repeat of a recent tragedy. In the United States, building codes are updated every three years. There is no uniform building code for the entire country, however. State and local jurisdictions have their own specific building codes based on standards set by the International Code Council (ICC), but adapted to regional considerations. 

Construction is regulated not only in new buildings, but also in buildings that undergo additions, alterations, and repairs. These projects need to comply with all state, country, and city/municipality building codes. During the investigation of a building collapse, the discovery of a code violation could be used to establish negligence. 

Don’t Let Your Finances Collapse, Too

Morgan & Morgan has been helping people put their lives back together after a catastrophe for more than 30 years. We have the financial strength, investigative skill, and legal tenacity to determine the cause of a building collapse, identify the liable parties, and secure maximum compensation for injuries and wrongful deaths. Call or contact us today for a no-cost, no-obligation case review. 

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Get answers to commonly asked questions about our legal services and learn how we may assist you with your case.

  • Who Can Be Held Liable for a Building Collapse?

    Numerous parties can bear legal responsibility for a building collapse that injures or kills people, or causes property-damage-only claims (e.g., a building collapses on an adjacent business or parked cars on the street). An investigation will first have to be performed to figure out why, exactly, the building collapsed. Once the cause of the collapse is established, potentially-liable parties can be identified. 

    Construction Collapses

    A recent building collapse in Houston provides an example of the different parties that may be sued. Two men working on the Marathon Oil Company headquarters were killed in a partial collapse. The families of the men sued for wrongful death and claimed that Marathon Oil and several subcontractors were negligent. Failure to comply with safety regulations, failure to supervise and train employees, and failure to provide adequate safety equipment were among the specific allegations in the building collapse lawsuit. The contractors named in the suit included construction workers, a concrete maker, and the company that provided the crane for the construction. 

    As is typical in construction defect cases, the parties are trying to shift blame to each other. For example, the crane company said that they were working on a different structure at the time of the collapse and that the damages were caused by other parties. 

    Typically, the passing of construction defect liability is accomplished with specific contractual provisions that indicate which party will be responsible for certain types of defects. Aside from general contractors and subcontractors, architects, engineers, property owners, and others in charge of the property (such as the party leasing the property) could be liable. Again, the actual liable party may come down to contractual language and contract law in the state where the collapse occurs. 

    Weather Collapses

    Acts of nature may be the most immediate cause of a building collapse, but earthquakes, wind storms, and other natural disasters aren’t necessarily an excuse, because the structure may not have met local building codes. San Francisco’s building code, for example, requires structures to be reinforced to withstand seismic activity. And in Oklahoma, homes should be built to withstand at least 90 mph winds; some localities have even higher standards. 

    Alternatively, maintenance that could have prevented a collapse may not have been performed. In areas that receive heavy snow, for example, it is necessary to clear roofs of snow and ice. Failure to do so could stress the building and lead to a preventable collapse. 

    Other Situations

    Third parties that have nothing to do with building or maintaining a structure could also play a role in a building collapse. For instance, a gas explosion could be the fault of the gas company or work being done in the vicinity of the building; underground excavation for a new building could accidentally cause an existing building to collapse; or a vehicle or a plane could crash into a structure, precipitating a partial or total collapse. 

    This last example brings to mind the terrorist attack of September 11, 2011, which set off a massive chain of litigation against the City of New York, insurance companies, building owners, airlines, the EPA, contractors, banks, and many more parties. Some of these cases are still being litigated, but in at least one case, a judge ruled that, “It is simply incompatible with common sense and experience to hold that defendants were required to design and construct a building that would survive the events of September 11, 2001.”

    In short, some events are effectively impossible to guard against. Pursuing legal damages for such events could be challenging, if not impossible.  

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