Building Collapse from Cutting Corners
Using cost cutting techniques can be dangerous. It is an important contributor to building failure. The reason why these cost saving tricks continue to plague our current infrastructure is because they come in many different forms and are very difficult to police. Corners are cut by an owner trying to build cheaply, almost as often as they are cut by a contractor trying to get a job finished on time. Even the official inspectors can skip crucial steps when they are overburdened, and higher-ups may fail to respond due to lack of interest.
The Philadelphia Salvation Army building collapse is a prime example of a combination of these careless decisions. On June 5th, 2013, a neighboring structure in the process of demolition suddenly fell onto a Salvation Army thrift store, trapping dozens of staff and shoppers under the rubble. Six people died and 14 were injured during the building collapse. The reason why? The owners of the building that was in the process of being demolished and the Salvation Army were deadlocked in a dispute over how the demolition would take place and what protections would be given to the Salvation Army store. During these stalled negotiations, the building owners reached out to several top city officials and the Salvation Army executives, citing the dangers of a possible building collapse when leaving the structure partially demolished for so long and asking for someone to intervene. No city official intervened and the negotiations continued to prove fruitless, so the proprietors proceeded with demolition anyway. Meanwhile, all agencies responsible for overseeing the demolition process failed to cite many glaring offenses that were indicating a potential structure collapse—allowing demolition to continue. The contractors in charge of the demolition, in order to cut costs, proceeded in an unsafe manner, removing many structural supports from the lower levels of the structure first and then bringing in heavy machinery to begin demolition.
In the investigation following the building collapse, several criminal indictments were levied against those who willfully endangered lives in order to demolish the structure at a faster pace. But such belated measures are rarely a deterrent to people trying to save a few extra dollars. Instead, individuals find it all too easy to gamble with the public’s safety even in the wake of high profile building failures.
How Do We Stop a Building Collapse?
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman is dedicated to holding accountable those who are responsible for contributing to building collapses. We are also dedicated to improving awareness about the current risks that innocent bystanders face each day from similar events. We encourage anyone who knows about an unsafe structure to say something before it is too late to prevent dangerous building failures. Always report damaged, unsafe, or wobbly structures to a landlord or owner, if repairs are not made in a timely fashion call city inspectors and bring their attention to the issue. Unfortunately, relying on building managers, contractors and even the official building inspectors, to notice and act on the dangerous signs of an impending building collapse, is far too often not enough to prevent such a tragedy from occurring .
Who is Responsible for a Building Collapse?
One would think that after their negligence is exposed, those responsible for building collapses would try their hardest to make the situation right for those killed and injured by the incident. But sadly, we have found that all too often that scenario couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most culpable parties try their hardest to hide their involvement or shift blame for building collapses onto others. It usually takes the help of diligent professionals to identify those responsible.
Take for example the fallout from a balcony collapse in Chicago. On June 29th, 2003 the worst porch collapse in U.S. history took place. During a party, the top floor balcony collapsed, taking down the two balconies beneath it, killing 13 and injuring 57. After an investigation, the cause of the accident was poor construction. The owners of the building were never given a permit to build the balcony, but proceeded to do so anyway. The structure they created was 81 square feet larger than permitted, had improper supports, undersized lengths of wood for its flooring and was attached with screws that were too short.
This balcony was a disaster waiting to happen, and yet, the site was inspected five times by the City of Chicago’s Inspectional Service Department without earning a single citation for the many code violations. Nevertheless, both the building owner and the City tried to blame the victims for their own negligence. The owner said too many people were at the party and that his unapproved and improper construction of the balcony had nothing to do with the building collapse. The City filed a lawsuit against the owner for installing the unsafe balcony, while at the same time hedging their bets by suing two of the survivors of the building collapse. While they later dropped the suit against the victims, it was made clear that priority number one for any guilty party is to shift the blame onto others, even to those who were harmed in the building collapse.
This type of blame shifting and victim blaming is sadly not unheard of in these situations. Therefore, it is important to make sure that those who are victims of building collapses are protected by lawyers experienced in handling the difficult issues that arise from such horrible tragedies.