Architectural Design Choice Allegedly Causes A Child’s Tragic Death


Architectural ExpertThis case takes place in Florida and involves a 9-year old child who visited a library with her father. While the father was reading a book, the child wandered off and climbed a guard railing separating an outdoor walkway from a small garden. The railing consisted of horizontal rungs making it easily scalable. The child reached the top and fell 2-stories from the railing onto a brick walkway. The child suffered traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries and passed away from subsequent complications. An expert in the design of facilities for children was sought to review the case and opine on the design choice for this guardrail in regard to child safety.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. How often do you work on projects involving the architectural design of facilities frequented by small children?
  • 2. For facilities in which small children are frequent visitors, what are the safest options for guardrail design?

Expert Witness Response E-116217

Climbability restrictions are not in any current model code and have never been adopted in any version of state building code. The 2000 International Residential Code stated, “Required guards shall not be constructed with horizontal rails or other ornamental patterns that result in a ladder effect.” The ladder effect restriction cited in the 2000 IRC was subsequently removed. Local jurisdictions may limit the use of horizontal cable railing, however, many cities have not. Even a horizontal cable railing would be a better option than the rigid bars used. It is my opinion that because of their small diameter and lack of rigidity, horizontal cables are thin and not as easy to climb. Architects are required to perform services consistent with the professional skill and care ordinarily provided by architects practicing in the same or similar locality under the same or similar circumstances. While another architect may have provided a different design, it is unfortunate that the code does not address this safety concern. I believe the architect did their job in the identification and application of applicable codes, laws, regulations, and standards. However, if the owner knew there was this issue and did not take appropriate action to correct it, then they could be found to be negligent. While the incident is definitely tragic, the state Building Standards Commission would be charged with addressing this gap in the building code.

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