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  • Stairway Falls: Avoid Them If You Can, Take Action if You Can’t

Stairway falls remain a leading cause of non-intentional injuries. The simple act of walking up and down a stairs, which each of us do thousands of times a year, can turn dangerous, even deadly, if we do not use adequate caution. Property owners, building managers and landlords can create dangerous situations when they have stairways that do not conform to safety standards or they fail to maintain their stairways.

As a personal injury attorney who has helped many clients injured in stairway accidents, I am well aware of the risks involved and the consequences. Property owners can take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their stairways. When property owners act negligently and that negligence causes harm to a person, I want to help that person receive what they are owed from the property owner.

Nearly Eight Million People Suffer Injuries in Stairway Accidents

A January 2009 article in All Business, discussed the impact of stairway falls in America. The article cited the All Injury Program, a joint venture of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC and Consumer Product Safety Commission, which found that falls are a leading cause of nonfatal injuries in the U.S. “In 2003, there were 18,044 fall-related deaths; in the same year, fall-related injuries were responsible for more than 701,000 hospitalizations. In addition, falls were reported to have led to nearly 7.2 million emergency department visits for which patients were treated and released. A recent study shows that the total number of fatal and nonfatal fall-related injuries in the U.S. in 2000 cost an estimated $26.9 billion in healthcare expenses. This cost is projected to increase to $32.4 billion by 2020.”

What Do We Know About Stairway Falls?

Research has revealed that many stairway accidents can be avoided. Not surprisingly, more accidents occur on the way down the stairs than on the way up the stairs. EHS Today found that “more serious upper and/or lower extremity injuries occur when traveling down a stairway than when traveling up a stairway.  In stairway descent, the tread depth – or horizontal surface – must be adequate for the ball of the foot to land on the tread without extending over the step below. If not, an over-step or misstep can occur, causing a fall forward. Trips and falls that occur during stairway ascent are often attributed to variation in riser, or vertical surface, height.”

We humans are amazingly complex creatures with stunning abilities to make difficult calculations. Even the most advanced robots have difficulty going up and down a flight of stairs, though we do it with little thought. With a quick glimpse of the first and last steps, our brain calculates step height and tread depth. That is why uneven steps and unusual heights pose such a threat.

Poor Stairway Design Leads to Injuries

Most building codes specify acceptable tread depth and step heights.  However, I have handled numerous cases where property owners were liable because they had stairwells that did not conform to these safety standards and, thus, people suffered falls and injuries. In a Bronx stairwell case, a woman tripped and fell on some cement steps where the risers were of uneven height and out of compliance with the building code. She suffered a bad ankle sprain. We settled that stairway case for $20,000. How much cheaper would it have been for the landlord just to replace those steps? The lesson is clear: make sure that all stairways conform to building codes.

Poor Stairway Maintenance Leads to Injuries

I have seen a fair number of cases where stairways originally met the building code standards, but lack of adequate maintenance led to a degradation that caused a dangerous situations. In a stairway fall that took place in the Bronx, a young girl tripped over a broken step. The step had been broken for months and the landlord failed to repair it. As a result, the young woman fractured her tibia and fifth metatarsal and a jury ordered the landlord to pay $560,000 in damages. How much better off would the landlord and the young girl have been if the landlord had simply repaired the broken step? I hope all property owners pay attention to these lawsuits and learn to protect their tenants and visitors.

I have other cases where workers left liquids and debris on the stairs that led to accidents. A simple sweep of the stairway could have prevented injuries and saved the property owner thousands of dollars.

What You Should Do to Prevent Stairway Accidents?

We all need to take reasonable precautions when using stairways. Doing so can help prevent accidents, though even reasonable precautions cannot prevent all stairway accidents.

If you are a property owner, make sure that your stairways meet building codes and maintain them so that your property remains safe. If you are a tenant or a visitor and you see a problem, notify the property owner or building manager of the danger so they can repair it.

What to Do If You Are Hurt in a Stairway Accident?

If you or someone you love is injured in a stairway fall, the most important objective is to treat that person’s medical needs. See a doctor as soon as possible or go to an emergency room. Follow the doctor’s orders.

Gather as much information about the cause and accident scene as possible. These steps include:

  • Write down the exact address and location of the accident
  • Take pictures of the accident scene. Remember, your phone might have a camera. I have a client who had a neighbor take a video of the stairway right after she fell and that video has proved very helpful.
  • Write down the names and contact information for any witnesses.
  • Take notes about the accident. What happened right before the accident, the actual event and the aftermath.

You should notify the property owner of the incident as soon as reasonably possible. In a commercial building, that could mean you need to contact the building agent or the super. In a restaurant, ask for the manager. If in doubt, you can consult with a personal injury attorney to ask whom to contact.

If you believe that your injury resulted from a defect or someone else’s negligence, you should consult a personal injury attorney. That attorney will interview you and conduct an investigation of the incident. The investigation will include the review of medical records and evidence, a review of the property owner’s past record including previous violations and lawsuits, interviewing witnesses and consulting the law.  When I investigate a case, I prepare a detailed case assessment for my client that reviews issues of liability, damages and assesses the value of a case if it goes to trial or settles.  With that information in hand, a client can decide how best to proceed.

When in doubt, you should contact a personal injury attorney experienced with stairway fall cases. I have handled many such cases and you can see a sample of them by clicking here.

I hope you found this information helpful. Please call or email me if you have comments, questions or would like assistance with a slip and fall case. You can also visit my website.

Carol L. Schlitt
New York Personal Injury Attorney

This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney.


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