Sean Helfin was 24 when he fell from a second-floor porch railing at his girlfriend’s apartment on North Bissell in Chicago in July 2007. He suffered a serious brain injury and died a little more than six months later.
Sean’s mother alleged in her lawsuit that the porch railings were about 10 inches lower than the 42 inches required by the Chicago Building Code. The property management company which also owned the building settled.
We applaud Sean’s mother for weathering her grief to bring this suit and focus attention on premises liability and porch safety. This case differed from the previous Lincoln Park accidents which involved porch collapses. Citizens look to enforcement of the Chicago Building Code for protection against all porch tragedies. However, the reality is that enforcement is spotty. We hope that this particular verdict serves as notice to property managers and landlords that they bear the ultimate responsibility for compliance and should not be complacent simply because they have not been inspected or have not received a building code violation. In addition, we hope insurance companies take note and become more stringent in advising their insured of safety compliance issues and demanding adherence to building code requirements.
Chicago’s porches on walk-up buildings are small and generally not suitable for large gatherings of people. Coupled with their age and state of repair, it is best that tenants and their guests avoid overloading the platforms. Tenants should report their concerns involving the suitability, stability and strength of the porches and railings and endeavor to avoid any suspect porches.