South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Violating City Building Code May Not Be Grounds for Negligence Per Se
Description Alabama high court held that when a contractor was sued for an injury suffered at a construction site where the city building code was not followed, it was not subject to liability for negligence per se, but to the rule of negligence. The per se rule applies only if a safety rule is violated that applies to a specific class of persons, not the general public.
Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words Premises Liability; Negligence; Building Code
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Lightsey took her 5-year old son along to watch her daughter practice baseball. They stood on an observation deck. The boy crawled through the guardrail and walked onto the roof of a building that was under renovation. He fell through the ceiling and suffered serious injuries. Lightsey sued the contractor for negligence. The judge told the jury that if they found the contractor violated the city building code because the guardrail was inadequate, then it was liable for negligence per se. The jury found that to be the case and awarded $8 million in damages. The contractor appealed.
Decision

Reversed and remanded. The trial court held that if the contractor was in violation of the city building code, then it was liable for negligence per se. That is not correct in this instance. When a statutory standard is adopted to set a required standard of care, as does the building code, if one violates it and causes an injury to a person whom the statute was intended to protect, there is liability for negligence per se. However, the statute must have been enacted to protect a class of persons of which plaintiff was a member. That was not the case here. Violating the building code was not negligence per se because it was adopted for the benefit of the general public, not for the benefit of a distinguishable class of persons. Hence, the question for the trial court is if the contractor violated the common-law standard of the reasonably prudent person.

Citation Parker Building Services Co. v. Lightsey, ---So.2d--- (2005 WL 1415413, Sup. Ct., Ala., 2005)

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