Understanding Codes for Premises Liability and Construction Defects

July 2018 - Understanding Codes for Premises Liability and Construction Defects

Below is an introduction to understanding the codes and issues involved in a premises liability or construction defect case. If you would like to learn more about codes and standards that may apply to these cases while gaining one general CLE credit, Ponderosa Associates will be providing an accredited seminar on Wednesday, September 26 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM at our new office in Westminster, CO. The title of the seminar is: "Determining Code Requirements for Premises Liability and Construction Defect Cases". Lunch will be provided. RSVP if you would like to attend to: jseely@ponderosa-assoc.com.

Introduction to Code Determination

A client was injured in a trip-and-fall accident walking out of a twenty-year-old building. The exterior veneer of the building is discolored and cracked three years after the building was constructed. Two of the first questions that usually arise are: “Was it built correctly?” and “Was it maintained properly?” There are a variety of codes, standards and other documents where answers to these questions can often be found. This month’s newsletter focuses specifically on determining codes that may be applicable to premises liability and construction defect cases. For the purpose of this newsletter the 2012 International Code Council Family of Model Codes is used.

Fire Origin & Cause

Which jurisdiction governs the construction and maintenance of the building or property?

In order to determine which code requirements may apply to a case, one begins the process by gathering information. To start, which jurisdiction governs the construction and maintenance of the building or property? The reason this is one of the most important facts to gather is that codes vary from one municipality to the next. Municipalities often make unique amendments, additions and deletions to model codes that they adopt. Some municipalities choose not to adopt certain model codes that other municipalities often do. Local municipal code requirements also vary and may apply.

Determining which jurisdiction governs which particular aspect of a property can occasionally be more difficult than one would assume. As an example, a property located in the city limits of Steamboat Springs is required to obtain building permits through Routt County Regional Building Department for new construction and alterations; however, zoning and planning requirements, as well as property maintenance, are typically managed by the city. Calling the building department is a good way to clear up any confusion one may have during research on a case.


What is the timeline of the applicable codes and the accident?

Municipalities also adopt model building codes at different times. As entities such as the International Code Council update and improve model codes, municipalities repeal past codes and adopt new ones. They do this through the creation, passing and approving of ordinances that contain amendments, additions and deletions to model codes. Each adoption ordinance also establishes the date that the ordinance shall take effect, which is known as the “effective date”.

In order to determine the codes that may apply to a case, one compares the dates of key events to the effective dates of appropriate ordinances. Key dates on premises liability cases and construction defect cases typically are the following: When did the local building department approve the building permit application? What was the date of the trip and fall accident? What was the date of the building investigation? The code requirements applicable at these various times often differ. 


What codes may have been violated?

Once the applicable codes have been determined, one can then conduct code research to determine if and what code requirements may have been violated in a case. The most common model codes that are referenced in premises liability and construction defect cases are the International Building Code (IBC), the International Residential Code (IRC), the International Fire Code (IFC) and the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC). The purpose of these codes is to protect public health, safety and welfare. The following are a few examples of how varying code requirements may apply to different cases:

Premises Liability: A means of egress is a continuous and unobstructed path of egress travel from any occupied portion of a building or structure to a public way, such as a street.[1] Means of egress is made up of three parts: the exit access, the exit, and the exit discharge. The evolution of means of egress requirements has been influenced by lessons learned from real fire incidents.[2] IFC requirements may apply in personal injury cases. One client may have tripped on loose tile in a means of egress. The IFC requires that walking surfaces of the means of egress be securely attached.[3] Another client may have slipped on ice just outside the main entrance doors of a building. The IFC also requires a means of egress to be free from obstructions that would prevent its use, including the accumulation of snow and ice. Accumulations of snow and ice could prevent timely exiting from the building in the case of an emergency. Generally, if the exit is used regularly, the exit doorway area is to be kept free from ice and snow.[4]

Construction Defects: All exterior walls of buildings must be protected against damage caused by weather conditions.[5] The IBC requires the exterior wall envelope to be designed and constructed in such a manner as to prevent the accumulation of water within the wall assembly and provide a means for draining any water that has entered back to the exterior.[6] One of the most common construction defects in newer buildings is improperly flashed openings and terminations of exterior cladding. When flashing is lapped incorrectly with adjoining building materials, it can direct water directly onto the substrate. Another common construction defect in exterior wall assemblies is an obstructed means of draining moisture back to the exterior after it has penetrated behind the finish. When stucco is installed tight to the ground at the base of a wall rather than having a weep screed held up a few inches from the ground, any water that has passed through the stucco becomes trapped at the base of the wall and can accumulate, potentially causing damage to building elements located behind the stucco. These two defects, or the combination of the two, can cause severe damage to the substrate and structure behind the cladding. Interior damage can be caused by such defects as well.

Regardless of what code requirement may apply to a condition on a case, one should always check the model code section to the code adoption ordinance of that jurisdiction. A section may have been amended, deleted, or added by the local jurisdiction.

Learn More

To learn more about determining code requirements for premises liability and construction defect cases, join us next week for a CLE credit course or check out our forensic architecture consulting. 

CLE Accredited Seminar at Ponderosa Associates

Determining Code Requirements for Premises Liability and Construction Defect Cases.

Wednesday, September 26, 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM 

RSVP to Jennifer Seely

RSVP to seminar

[1] 2012 International Building Code Section 202 Definitions

[2] 2012 International Building Code Commentary on Chapter 10 Purpose

[3] 2012 International Fire Code Section 1003.4 Floor Surface

[4] 2012 International Fire Code Section 1030.3 and Commentary on Section 1030.3

[5] 2012 International Building Code Commentary on Section 1403.2 Weather Protection

[6] 2012 International Building Code Section 1403.2 Weather Protection