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Dance floor collapse at Clemson party raises legal questions

From time to time there are deadly fires or shootings at night clubs, but it’s not normal for the dance floor to collapse. So it was shocking when the entire floor of a clubhouse gave way at a college homecoming party in South Carolina, injuring 30 people.

Investigators – and the victims’ legal representatives -- will try to determine if the tragedy occurred because of a structural defect, too large a crowd, the conduct of the partygoers, or some combination thereof.

The floor bounced, then fell through

The accident occurred about 12:30 in the morning Oct. 21 at an apartment building complex about three miles from Clemson University. The facility had been rented for an annual Homecoming party. The home team had defeated North Carolina State and the clubhouse was literally hoppin’.

Some witnesses reported that the crowd was jumping in rhythm to the music and that the dance floor was bouncing “like a trampoline” before it collapsed. Dozens of people plummeted into the basement -- 30 people were taken to local hospitals for broken bones, lacerations and other injuries. Miraculously, no one died, despite people falling on top of each other and splintered joists and floorboards crashing down.

Why would the floor collapse? Who would be responsible?

It’s not uncommon for people to jump around on a dance floor. This was a party room, built to hold a high number of people. Authorities and attorneys will explore all the possibilities:

A construction defect – The facility was only built in 2004, so the flooring should not have been compromised by age or the elements. The architect and builder might be liable if it turns out that it was not properly designed and constructed to withstand the anticipated use.

Premises liability – The clubhouse had been rented out for the private party. The apartment building owner has an obligation to provide safe conditions to tenants or outside groups who rent the facility.  

Party host liability – The group that organized the homecoming party could be liable for letting too many people in, especially if the crowd exceeded the room’s maximum rated capacity of 135, or for failing to hire security for the event.

Victim negligence – Attendees have reported that the floor was not merely shaking but visibly bouncing and bending before it buckled and fell into to the basement. Was the floor so poorly constructed that a little shake, rattle and roll caused it to collapse, or were the dancers so raucous that the broke the floor? If people were intentionally deflecting the floor it could complicate the victims’ personal injury claims. 

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