Real Estate and Property Law

10 years after fatal Chicago porch collapse, $16.6M case concludes

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Almost 10 years ago, some 75 guests, including at least one attorney and a number of law students, were attending a summer party at a home in the trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Shortly after midnight, a back porch on the third floor collapsed, falling into the basement level as it took down the intervening floors as well. A total of 13 people died from their injuries at the June 29, 2003 event, and 50 more were injured.

Earlier this year, the litigation saga concluded with an insurance coverage ruling by a state appeals court concerning 40 consolidated cases, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Redeye and

The appellants had hoped to increase the $16.6 million global settlement in the case by increasing the primary insurance policy limits to $2 million from $1 million, but were not successful. At issue was whether the accident counted as a single event or multiple events, for coverage purposes.

The building owner’s individual share of the damages was $600,000. Another $15 million was paid by an excess insurance carrier.

The incident—easily the worst porch collapse in city history—also resulted in fines of $108,000 and $25,000 for the property owner and the porch contractor, respectively, the Redeye article recounts.

An architect determined that the porch could have withstood the load placed on it if it had been constructed in accord with city code. However, no citations had been issued by city inspectors prior to the accident.

Afterwards, the city further strengthened its building code and enforcement procedures. At the building, apartments are still rented out, but there have been some changes. Metal bars block what once were openings from the back stairway onto porches. And a sign reads “Porch for tenant use only. No parties or gatherings.”

Attorney Geoffrey Rapp, now 37, fell about 15 feet and suffered a head wound that required over a dozen stitches. He still gets anxious when he has to go onto a porch.

He joined with other litigants filing suit because he wanted not simply reimbursement of his medical expenses but answers and accountability. The result was a disappointment: The city was determined to be immune from liability and other parties settled.

“It’s, to me, an entirely preventable tragedy—one that, although not in the same magnitude, seems to occur again and again,” he told the newspaper. “We have a city that’s taking our tax dollars, that’s supposed to be protecting us, and I feel in this case they really let the people down.”

See also:

48 Hours (CBS News): “Without Warning, Chaos”

Associated Press: “Owners in Porch Collapse Face Lawsuit”

New York Times: “Midwest: Illinois: Lawsuits Follow Porch Collapse”

WLS: “Court rules city not liable in 2003 porch collapse”

Updated at 3:30 p.m. to substitute Redeye article for briefer version published in Chicago Tribune.

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