Property Maintenance: Ceiling Collapse Incidents - Expert Article

Diligent property management is critical to maintaining safe premises. A water leak or other moisture intrusion, left unchecked, can lead to various health and safety issues, including ceiling collapse, slip hazards, and toxic mold exposures.

In this article, Facilities Engineering Expert, Edward Gray discusses common causes for ceiling collapse and the standard of care for property maintenance.

Property Maintenance: Ceiling Collapse Incidents - Expert Article

Drywall and plaster ceilings are known to fail and collapse under excessive or prolonged water exposure. While ceiling materials are designed to resist low level moisture and incidental surface wetness, heavier or prolonged exposures can cause the material to increase in weight and lose structural integrity. The longer conditions are permitted to persist, the more likely a failure is to occur.

As a frame of reference, half inch thick drywall is the standard for residential construction. At the time of writing this article, a 4’x8’ sheet of the bestselling lightweight drywall at a popular home improvement site was listed with a product weight of approximately 40 pounds. The weight of products in this category varies greatly, with competing products weighing between 50 and 60 pounds. Commercial applications requiring thicker sheets for fire ratings will weigh more.

Many ceiling failures will not involve a full sheet of drywall falling from the ceiling, but even a partial failure can involve substantial mass. Adding additional weight gained by moisture absorption, even relatively small pieces can result in impact injuries or falls caused by loss of balance.

Establishing Causation in a Ceiling Collapse Case

The first step to establish causation in a ceiling collapse case is to identify the source of moisture. The most common sources are leaking roofs and plumbing systems, but we’ve also investigated damage caused by condensate drainage originating in appliances like window mounted air conditioners. In most cases this can be reliably determined during a site inspection by following moisture, mold, and staining back to the possible sources.

After the source of moisture is known, it’s important to understand the timeframe in which the problem developed. The propagation of damage can range from less than a day (in extreme examples), to more gradually (over the course of weeks or months). The presence of staining/water marks or black mold at the time of ceiling failure are potential indicators that the exposure to moisture may have occurred over a more extended period of time. Such situations where mold is present or where it is otherwise apparent that the damage occurred more gradually may justify an assessment of the property management to determine if they were negligent in inspections or maintenance. If there is water, there will almost always be staining and water marks. Are some of them old, dry and discolored? Are there new marks over old marks? In a forensic investigation, we would consider all of the available facts and information and then come to a conclusion.

What is the Standard of Care for Property Management?

Property managers have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their properties for intended uses and foreseeable misuses. This includes regular and periodic scheduled inspections of their units and grounds to identify existing and developing issues that require attention.

Using the example of a ceiling collapse, a pending failure may present itself during inspection as a water stain on the ceiling. Other potential indicators may include clogged gutters, roof defects, and roof coverings nearing the end of their useful life, or issues with the HVAC or plumbing system. Any of these problems have the potential to divert water to unintended regions within the building envelope.

Additionally, any tenant-reported issues should be inspected and repairs performed in a timely fashion, before further damage can occur. A property manager’s failure to maintain a unit can create a dangerous condition for the tenants, and may cause injuries when an incident like ceiling collapse occurs.

CEILING COLLAPSE INVESTIGATIONS

Our forensic casework in this area typically requires an investigation to determine the cause of the ceiling collapse, and a review of whether the property manager and maintenance staff followed the standard of care for inspection and resulting property damage, and in the worst cases, injury. Robson Forensic has experts in facilities engineering, property maintenance, and premises safety who are frequently called upon to investigate ceiling collapses and other mishaps that occur at managed residential or commercial properties.

For more information, contact the author of this article or submit an inquiry.

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