Attorney Patrick O’Hara recently resolved a case on behalf of a young woman who was injured when she fell off a bridge that was built in violation of the International Building Code a few miles south of Spring, Texas. The footbridge was designed and built without guardrails despite the fact that the top of the bridge was suspended over three feet above boulders in a park. Plaintiff accidentally stepped off the bridge and injured her neck.
Doctors performed emergency surgery on her cervical vertebrae after she began losing feeling in her limbs. After the surgery, Plaintiff underwent many months of physical therapy in order to learn how to walk again with the assistance of a walker. Medical providers, after examining and evaluating Plaintiff, estimated her future medical care to cost approximately $6 million.
Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the landscape architect, contractors, and subcontractors who designed and/or built the footbridge. An engineer and landscape architect opined that the companies that designed and built the footbridge failed to use the ordinary standard of care when designing and building the bridge. The International Building Code provided a basis for their opinions and conclusions. Texas requires plaintiffs to file a certificate of merit within a short time after filing a petition against an engineer or architect. The certificate of merit must be notarized and signed by a professional in the same or similar trade as the defendant engineer or architect. The certificate of merit must state what the defendant professional did that was below the standard of care and how that negligent act or omission caused harm to the plaintiff. If a plaintiff fails to file a certificate of merit, the case must be dismissed by the judge. The judge in his or her discretion may dismiss the case with prejudice; thus, preventing the plaintiff from filing the lawsuit again.
INTERNATIONAL BUILDING CODE
Section 1013 of the International Building Code mandates that elevated platforms such as open-sided walking surfaces, mezzanines, industrial equipment platforms, stairways, ramps, and landings have guardrails when the elevated surface is more than thirty (30) inches above the ground below. The guards must form a protective barrier that is a minimum height of forty-two (42) inches. If the elevated surface is thirty (30) inches or less above the ground below, the designer may use his or her discretion to determine whether guardrails are appropriate.
The International Building Code provides exceptions where guards are not required for platforms elevated above thirty inches. These exceptions include loading docks, piers, audience side of stages, and vehicle service pits not accessible to the public. Thus, in most settings, especially residential buildings, guards have mandated for platforms elevated over thirty inches.
UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE
Guidelines published by the USDA also state that footbridges over thirty inches above the surface below should have guardrails in urban and high-risk areas. The USDA has three basic rail systems depending on the setting.
- Urban and high-risk areas have trail bridges that comply with the International Building Code with regard to the use of guards.
- Rural and moderate-risk areas have trail bridges that comply with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
- Remote and low-risk areas have less stringent standards. The bridges generally comply with OSHA which requires guards when the platform is elevated four feet or more above the adjacent floor or ground.
When designing a footbridge for a federal park, the architect takes into consideration the potential users of the structure and whether the potential hazards along the trail are the same or greater than the hazards of a bridge without a railing. Trails in rural and urban settings are likely to have small children and less experienced users, so rail systems are used in most instances.
If you have been injured in a trip and fall, you might be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, disfigurement, physical impairment and mental anguish. If you have been injured seriously in a fall, contact The O’Hara Law Firm for a free consultation. Patrick O’Hara is a personal injury attorney that handles cases in Harris County and surrounding counties. The O’Hara Law Firm represents clients on a contingency fee basis. Call us at 832-956-1138.