Stairway and stairwell accidents are a common cause of serious injuries that can lead to permanent disability and even death in some cases. Due to the prevalence of staircases in homes, apartment buildings, workplaces, and commercial spaces like restaurants and bars, stairway accidents are the second leading cause of accidental injury in the country, behind motor vehicle accidents.
The National Safety Council reports that over 1 million injuries occur each year as a result of falls on stairs or steps. Those injuries can range from minor to severe in nature, with the most common being strains, sprains, bruises, bumps, scratches, and lacerations. Fractures of the legs, arms, hips, neck, and back, as well as separated joints, are frequently seen in these types of accidents. Twenty-five percent of fractures sustained in these falls are severe enough to require surgical intervention.
Severe outcomes of falls occurring on stairways include concussions, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries, and paralysis, which can all lead to permanent disability or death. Twelve thousand accidental deaths happen each year in falls involving steps. Stairway fall injuries can result in physical debilitation, emotional strain, and financial hardship for the victim and his or her family.
The personal injury attorneys at Berry Law can investigate the cause of a stairway incident and advise you on what compensation you may be entitled to for injuries sustained during a fall. If you are entitled to compensation, an attorney can help to gather legal and medical documents to build a case and fight for maximum financial relief for you and your family.
Are Stairway Fall Accidents Preventable?
The majority of falls on staircases or steps are completely preventable. Falls come down to simple physics involving friction, momentum, and gravity. When these work together, injuries can occur. Removing hazards or adding safety aides as a preventative measure can cut down on the risk of individuals falling on stairs or steps.
A lack of friction, or traction, between a person’s feet and the surface on which they’re walking can lead to a loss of balance, and subsequently, a fall. Liquid spills, snow, ice, sand, grease or other substances can make steps slippery and reduce the amount of friction present. These types of falls are particularly common on days when snow or ice covers stairways or entryways. Immediate removal of weather-related hazards is necessary for preventing slip and fall accidents that occur on wet or icy steps.
When feet hit an object with enough momentum, the body is thrown off balance, and a fall can occur. Loose carpeting and items left out on a stairway such as toys, boxes, laundry or debris can lead a victim to trip and be thrown off balance. These tripping accidents are particularly dangerous when they happen on a staircase because of the increased height involved.
In staircase accidents in particular, gravity works against the body by pulling it toward the ground. Handrails and bannisters can provide steadying support, but if they are loose or damaged, they can actually increase the risk of a stairway fall and the severity of injuries sustained. Safety aides on staircases that are in poor condition provide a false sense of security when they buckle under a person’s weight during a fall.
Who is Responsible for Damages Sustained During a Stairway Fall?
Property owners have an obligation under the law to maintain safety standards that protect their employees, customers and guests. Visitors who have been invited to a property have the right to expect that the property is reasonably safe for them. In the case of commercial properties, an implied invitation is extended to the public when an establishment opens its doors to conduct business.
Guests of private residences are also given protection under the law, and private property and homeowners are under the same legal obligation to protect visitors from harm. These protections are knowns as premises liability law.
When a building owner breaches his or her obligation, or duty of protection, toward visitors, guests, tenants, or employees, they are found to be negligent and can be held liable for any injuries sustained while on their property. For this reason, all property owners should carry liability insurance as part of their property insurance package.
Not being aware of a problem is not a defense against negligence because a property owner is responsible for routinely conducting inspections and performing necessary maintenance to prevent issues from occurring in the first place. The expectation is that they will correct any issues found as soon as possible. If a situation cannot be addressed immediately, the property owner has an obligation to warn visitors of defects or danger present.
While it’s most often an owner or landlord who holds liability for accidents that occur on his or her property, sometimes a private contractor could be held financially responsible as well, such as in situations where a company is contracted for snow and ice removal from the stairs and walkways of a business.
When a staircase is located inside of a rental property, the renter and the landlord may share liability for damages. The renter is responsible for keeping the stairs free from clutter and reporting any maintenance issues, and the landlord is responsible for repairs and maintenance of his or her property. Staircases in common areas of a residential building are the responsibility of the property owner.
What Causes Stairwell Accidents?
Injuries that occur due to negligence on the part of a property owner are among the most common examples of personal injury claims in the country. Two thousand slips, trips, and falls are reported daily in the United States alone.
Despite how common fall injuries are, only a small percentage of people report these accidents, with approximately two percent of fall accidents going on to a jury trial. Many victims believe that their injuries are their own fault due to clumsiness or lack of attention. The reality is that staircase hazards or defects are the responsibility of the property owner. Failure to properly maintain or repair defects such as loose grab bars, railings, or bannisters or broken or even steps leads to injury.
The unsafe conditions of a staircase most often boil down to one of these issues: construction defects, maintenance defects, or a lack of safety measures. Construction defects occur when stairs are not built to comply with code standards. For example, they are constructed to be too narrow or too high to comply with safety guidelines, or when the materials used fail to provide the support necessary.
Maintenance defects are a failure to address temporary conditions of a stairway, including broken components or spills and debris like snow and ice accumulation. A lack of safety features can include inadequate lighting, missing handrails, and appropriate landings placed at the correct height between sets of steps.
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What Damages Can I Recover From My Stairway Fall?
The negligence of a property owner can lead to thousands of dollars in medical bills from emergency room visits, hospital stays, physical therapy, and more. In addition to debilitating pain and permanent disability, victims often face financial strain from missed work days and expensive medical bills.
Fall accidents cost Americans more than $34 billion annually and can even lead a household into bankruptcy. Victims miss an average of 11 work days per month as they recover from their injuries. If a property owner’s negligence is found to be the cause of a staircase fall accident, the victim can petition the court for compensation for his or her injuries and losses, which could include the cost of medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Nebraska Revised Statute 25-207 requires a potential plaintiff to file a premises liability suit within the statute of limitations, which is four years from the date that the injury occurred. A plaintiff in a premises liability case must be able to show that they were invited to the property by the owner.
Insurance companies that handle premises liability claims will often balk at issuing the full payment due to a claimant. The company’s attorneys may argue that the victim is partially responsible for his or her own injuries or that steps taken by the property owner to prevent injuries were reasonable.
Hiring an Omaha premises liability attorney can ensure that the actions or a failure to act on the part of another are held to the highest standards of accountability. Most premises liability cases are settled with the insurance company out of court, but occasionally these suits do go to jury trial.
In those cases, a jury decides whether or not the steps taken by the property owners were adequate enough to protect employees, customers, or guests from injury. If a jury finds that there was a failure to inspect stairs or that a property owner was careless in his or her inspection practices, the court will likely award damages to the victim.
While monetary compensation can’t restore your good health, it can ease the burden placed on you and your family following a stairwell fall accident by taking care of financial needs while you focus on your recovery. Contact us today to learn more.