Landlord, tenants could face legal action after balcony collapse

Experts discuss victims' rights after balcony collapse in Neptune Beach

NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. - Insurance liabilities and possible lawsuits could come from the Fourth of July balcony collapse in Neptune Beach.

Channel 4 spoke with experts about what rights the victims of the collapse have in a situation like this.

State Farm agent Matt Carlucci said the victims could file liability claims against their landlord and even against the tenants of the home.

"If there was definite need of maintenance on the wood of the balcony and the wood was old maybe some rot, nails were old and it had just sat there for a long time unmaintained, then there could be negligence involved," said Carlucci.

It's called a dwelling policy and that policy is liability coverage that ranges from $100,000 to $300,000. It's money that the victims' could try to go after on their own or with a lawyer, but the liability may not fall solely on the landlord.

Even though one of the tenants said they had discussed the condition of the deck with their landlord, an adjuster may hold them at fault for the collapse.

IMAGES: 2nd-floor balcony collapses

"They'll look to see if there were too many people or lack of supervision, constructional and maintenance," said Carlucci. "There's a lot of ingredients that go into whether a lawsuit is appropriate or not."

"If I were representing one of these victims, I would look at suing both the landlord and the tenant," said Florida Costal School Of Law Professor, Rod Sullivan.

Sullivan said if the tenants don't have renter's insurance, victims can go after any assets they may have.

"The tenants' potential liability comes in because the tenant apparently complained about it in the past that the deck was weak, but let 15 to 20 people go on the deck at one time," said Sullivan. "They certainly bare some responsibility for the loss, but the primary responsibility seems to rest with the landlord if the deck was not maintained, in good condition or not built correctly in the first place."

Channel 4 was told that it could take anywhere from 3 months to a year for an adjuster's investigation to be complete into the balcony collapse.

Sullivan said it is important that the victims find attorney's quickly so that their experts can inspect the remains of the deck before it is destroyed.

The people who live at the home have until Sunday to vacate the property. On Saturday, Channel 4 spoke with one of the tenants who said he and his roommates spent most of the day packing up, getting ready to move out.

"It's not like our deck was overly filled. We don't know what made it happen," said Charles Blackwell. "Right now, I don't have a home, not sure what I'm going to do. Just trying to lean on each other."

"It's going to be tough for us because we're in a last minute decision," Blackwell added. "We had no heads up or anything like that. Started out with three of us, now I feel like I'm pretty much on my own with this whole thing. Trying to help out and figure out where we all stand with our yesterday's home being condemned."

Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.