Just how common are parking garage collapses like the one that happened in Oak Lawn this weekend?
On Friday, a chunk of the seventh floor deck of the parking garage at Renaissance Towers at Cedar Springs Road and Turtle Creek Boulevard fell through, collapsing decks all the way to the ground floor.
Police are still investigating the cause of the collapse, but repairs were being done to a swimming pool and the portion of the top deck of the garage that gave way was covered in dirt from that project.
Dirt that accumulated on the top of a three-story garage at the Watergate apartments in Washington, D.C. was ruled the cause of a collapse of that parking structure in May this year.
“The weight of accumulated dirt on top of the structure exceeded the weight that the structure was designed to support,” a spokesman for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs told the Washington Post in July after an investigation.
Two people were injured in the collapse of that structure.
Heavy rain on Friday in Dallas would have made the pile of dirt on the roof of the Renaissance Towers garage even heavier, possibly causing the deck to give way.
But these are not isolated incidents. A number of parking garage collapses have happened this year.
Rain that caused a mudslide was ruled the culprit in the collapse of a parking garage in Boone, N.C., in September. The collapse occurred on a weekend, not during the work week, so no one was injured.
In July, a parking garage attached to a hospital collapsed in Johnson City near Binghamton, N.Y. No one was injured. About two dozen of cars were destroyed.
The Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin pointed out that while elevators must be inspected regularly to make sure they’re safe, parking garages are exempt from inspection in that state and New York has no regulations requiring parking garages to be in compliance with structural engineers’ recommendation.
That wasn’t the only parking garage that fell that month. The roof of a parking structure in Lexington, Ky. collapsed after heavy rains. No one was injured. Not that time, anyway.
In 2006, a pickup hit a panel in a garage at a Chase bank office in Lexington. Concrete hit and killed a pregnant pedestrian. Police at the scene estimated he was driving at 5 mph. In its lawsuit, the victim’s family charged the accident was caused, in part, by poor maintenance of the structure.
The first parking garage collapse this year occurred in Secaucus, N.J. when a snow plow driver was clearing the top level of a parking garage. The deck gave way under the plow. A 40-foot chunk that gave way crushed a car on the second level.
This certainly isn’t something new. Garage collapses in 2014 included a garage under construction to house buses in downtown Los Angeles and a parking structure at a Denver condo.
Currently, residents of Renaissance whose cars were not in the building have no place to park in Oak Lawn.
Residents whose cars were not damaged can’t get them out. One resident said that his insurance company told him that they won’t cover a rental replacement car for him because his car is undamaged.
Residents whose cars were destroyed, however, should expect insurance to replace the car — however with deductibles and depreciation, their costs won’t be recovered.
How long should litigation take?
In October 2012, a parking garage under construction at Miami Dade College collapsed, killing four workers and injuring seven more. In 2013, five contractors were fined $38,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA said contractors didn’t follow the plans, left out welds and grout in support columns and didn’t brace columns properly.
In May this year, the college reached a $33.5 million settlement with the contractor and subcontractors.
Fortunately, no one was injured in the Oak Lawn collapse. What this disaster had in common with others is heavy rain and standing dirt.
Should you be worried?
If you park in a high rise structure, take a look. Are there cracks in the pavement? Are there areas of standing water after the rain? Are chunks falling out of your parking garage like in these pictures? If so, you may want to rethink parking there.
No one was injured in the Renaissance collapse. That’s no guarantee for next time.