California Building Codes: What Are the Consequences of Violations Causing Personal Injury?


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Violations of California’s building codes resulting in serious or fatal personal injury have legal consequences for those responsible for the unsafe structure, whether the homeowners, builders, or architects. An attorney cites a recent case in which code violations proved fatal for an emergency responder to illustrate the dangers of incompliance with building laws and the consequences for the parties involved.

The Dangers of Building Code Violations

A recent case against a German owner and architect of a California home illustrates the potential risks when safety rules are not followed. The architect, Gerhard Becker, constructed a fireplace on the third floor of his luxury mansion in the Hollywood Hills. Unfortunately, the fireplace was not properly constructed and set the 12,500 square foot mansion on fire, reported the Los Angeles Times. The blaze also melted a sprinkling system, causing it to fill with water, and ultimately causing an emergency worker to sustain fatal personal injuries, explains an attorney.

When emergency workers responded to the scene, the ceiling of the mansion collapsed atop five firefighters. One of those firefighters died of his injuries two days later. This led to criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter being filed against Becker, who now faces up to four years in state prison. In order for Becker to be convicted on the criminal charges, it will be necessary to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he engaged in either willful actions or gross and egregious negligence that led to the death of the firefighter. It is also likely that Becker could face a civil lawsuit for wrongful death brought by the family members of the deceased firefighter.

Negligence and Civil Liability

In the state of California, all parties owe a reasonable duty of care to their fellow citizens to behave in a manner that does not cause harm. This reasonable duty of care extends to a number of situations: homeowners must keep their homes reasonably safe, for example, and drivers of vehicles must exercise reasonable caution behind the wheel.

When a party fails to exercise reasonable care, he or she can become civilly liable for any damages that his or her breach may cause. This means that if a homeowner performs remodeling or construction work on his or her home in a negligent manner or in a way that is not in compliance with building codes, he or she may be responsible for any losses that occur as a result of his or her negligence.

Homeowners can be held liable under several different theories of negligence. The first is negligence per se, which says that if you violate a safety law (like a building code) and someone is harmed, you are essentially automatically considered to have breached your duty without the other party proving you were negligent. The second is premises liability law, which imposes a duty on homeowners to make sure their premises are reasonably safe.

In addition to homeowner liability when something goes wrong with a construction or remodeling project, architects who breach their professional duty of care can also face civil liability. The homeowner himself could sue the architect for malpractice, while other parties injured as a result of defective design or ineffective construction supervision might be able to sue under either negligence per se or standard negligence rules. Building codes are in place to ensure the safety of structures constructed or modified in California.

Homeowners, contractors, or architects who fail to comply with them may face civil and criminal actions if their violations of these laws cause others to suffer serious or fatal personal injury, explains an attorney in the state.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Ballidis
Attorney and managing partner of the California-based law firm Allen, Flatt, Ballidis, and Leslie, James Ballidis has written extensively on issues concerning personal injury law.

Copyright Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie, Inc
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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