If you own property in Virginia, you might wonder what your obligations are for maintaining the property. Many people associate property maintenance with mowing the grass and keeping conditions safe for visitors. However, one of the most critical aspects of property maintenance is ensuring an adequate means of egress.
What Is a Means of Egress?
A means of egress is a way to travel from a building to public roads or sidewalks. This can include exits, corridors, stairways, or other elements allowing a safe route to the public way. These areas must be continuously available and remain unobstructed. This means you cannot use a regularly blocked door as your means of egress.
Importance of an Adequate Means of Egress
An adequate means of egress is essential for ensuring that people in buildings or structures can safely exit and enter the premises. As a result, having a proper means of egress can mean the difference between life and death in a crisis.
Maintaining Your Means of Egress
Under the Virginia Maintenance Code and the Virginia Construction Code, property owners have a legal obligation to maintain their property in a specific way. This includes ensuring there are adequate means of egress by requiring the following:
- Minimum number of exits based on size and occupancy of the building
- Maximum travel distance between exits
- Minimum clearance in stairways and other means of egress
In addition to these specific requirements that you must comply with during the construction of a building, property owners also have general duties such as:
- Keeping means of egress free of all obstructions and hazards so that occupants can exit the building in an emergency
- Ensuring all means of egress are well-lit and marked so occupants can safely exit the building without injuring themselves
- Ensuring that all means of egress are in good working order, including doors and locks, so no one gets trapped in the building during an emergency
Failing to maintain means of egress on your property per the Virginia Maintenance Code and Virginia Construction Code can result in severe consequences. Not only can it put your occupants’ lives at risk, but it can also result in legal liability.
Liability for Failing to Maintain Your Means of Egress
When you fail to maintain means of egress, you can be liable for any injuries or damages that result. Penalties can include:
- Civil lawsuits filed by injured parties or their families seeking compensation for their losses
- Criminal charges for violating building codes and safety regulations, which can lead to severe fines and other penalties
In addition to monetary and criminal penalties, you may suffer reputational damage. If you fail to maintain your property, the news of the safety violations can travel quickly, harming the business.
How Compliance Is Ensured
You should take a proactive approach to ensure compliance with codes and safety regulations:
- Conduct regular inspections of all means of egress to identify any hazards or defects. For example, if an occupant is blocking an exit, you could be liable in the event of an emergency.
- Immediately address notices of hazards or deficiencies in means of egress. If someone informs you of an issue with an exit, failing to address it can mean life or death.
- Maintain detailed records of all inspections and maintenance activities to help prove you’ve complied with all codes and regulations.
In addition to these protective measures, you should stay informed about any changes or updates to codes and regulations. You can do this by consulting advisors or staying in touch with industry associations.
Contact Us Today!
If you have been injured while attempting to exit or enter a building, the attorneys of Strickland, Diviney & Segura can help. To get started, contact us at (540) 982-7787 for a free case evaluation.