In an event eerily similar to one that occurred only a few years ago, at least eighteen people were injured during the July 4th weekend when a deck collapsed at a beach house in Emerald Isle. This event is very similar to a deck collapse in Ocean Isle in 2009, which sent over twenty vacationers to the hospital. It appears that the family was attempting to take a photo on the deck when it collapsed.
The legal implications of a tragic event like this have seen consistent evolution over the past fifty years. It used to be the majority rule that a vacation home owner was not liable for incidents such as these. The theory was that the renters are coming in to the homes for long vacations and thus have a duty to inspect the premises themselves for any potentially dangerous circumstances. Moreover, the rule also considered that vacation home owners rarely were physically present at the homes and might not be aware of the condition of the property.
However, eventually the insanity of this legal position was realized. Most states, North Carolina included, have adopted vacation home rental acts. These statutory schemes place an ordinary duty of reasonable care upon vacation home owners. It is always a good idea to inspect the premises when you arrive to determine if there are any obviously dangerous conditions. It is also important to keep in mind that using the property in a way that is not foreseeable could also create a danger that would not be compensable. It is unclear whether dozens of people on a deck taking a group picture would be unforeseeable, but the liability of a vacation home owner is not absolute.
Cases like these can be very fact intensive and require an acute awareness of the specific law. Lets hope that we don’t see another repeat of this accident for a long time.