Montana City Loses Appeal in Lawsuit Over Deck Collapse

February 27, 2009

The city of Polson, Mont., has lost its appeal to the Montana Supreme Court in a lawsuit stemming from the July 2004 collapse of an outside deck at a popular bar and casino.

The deck at the Diamond Horseshoe Bar and Grill, crowded with partygoers, collapsed and sent customers crashing onto a concrete slab on the ground below.

Plaintiff Ryan Funke, one of the 80 people injured, contended the city shared negligence because it was responsible for approving the deck’s construction and subsequent inspections.

Lawyers for the city argued it bore no responsibility for the collapse.

The city acknowledged that an anonymous caller telephoned the city’s building department about 14 hours before the collapse occurred, warning that the deck was not safe.

The caller gave no details, and the city said that without specific information, officials could not act on the anonymous tip, even if they would have had time to do so.

A jury awarded Funke nearly $684,000 in damages, apportioning 95 percent of the negligence to building owner Bert Shultz and 5 percent to the city.

The state Supreme Court in a 5-0 ruling upheld the lower court and denied Polson’s appeal.

“It is manifest on the face of the briefs and record before us that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in allowing evidence regarding the alleged phone call to the city and in allowing evidence concerning the city’s inspection of the deck,” Justice Brian Morris wrote for the court. “It is further manifest … that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in instructing the jury on the city’s legal duty.”

An investigation determined that improper installation of a key support beam appeared to have been a major factor in the collapse. An architect hired to inspect the remains of the deck said it appeared the wooden ledger connecting the balcony’s deck to the building was not to code because the ledger was not protected from the elements. He said screws used to secure the balcony to the ledger also were inadequate and improperly installed.

At least 11 customers who were injured in the collapse filed suits, all of them naming the bar’s owners as the key defendants. Three lawsuits, filed by Funke, Tyson McEvoy and Tyson Dupuis, also named the city as a defendant.

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