Written by attorney Edward Joel Lake

Accidents on Stairs: Determining the Cause & Liability of a Fall Accident

When an individual has been injured in an accident on stairs, it may be very difficult to prove it was caused by someone else’s negligence, rather than his or her own carelessness. Blame can easily be put on the victim when one slips and falls on a publicly used staircase.

Accidents on Stairs: Establishing Negligence

In any type of slip and fall accident, the only way to be compensated for injuries is to prove that someone else was negligent. There are three main ways this could be done: establishing hazardous conditions, failure to correct and delay in correction.

The first is establishing that the owner of the property caused the hazardous condition. An example of this would be waxing stairs and then failing to put up a warning sign or barricade to prevent entrance to them.

When accidents on stairs occur, a second way of proving liability is showing a dangerous condition existed, but the owner failed to correct it such as:

  • crumbling concrete steps;
  • broken wooden stairs; or
  • railings that aren’t properly affixed, resulting in a person losing balance and falling.

If the owner was made aware of the condition yet failed to fix it, this could be considered negligence. Another similar scenario would be if the owner intended to fix it but didn’t get to it before someone was injured.

However, in this case, it would need to be determined if the delay was reasonable. Let’s say he or she was just made aware of the hazard and had to go to the store to get the right supplies to correct the problem. Even then, it would be expected that a warning sign would be posted or some type of barrier would be put in place.

A third way to show a property owner was liable is that the owner should have known the dangerous condition existed. Knowing and should have known are two different things.

There can be several factors that impact whether or not a property owner should have reasonably known of a hazardous condition on the stairs:

  • if the condition was there long enough for the owner to be made aware;
  • frequency of how often the premises are inspected and maintained; and
  • if others (such as employees or patrons) made the owner aware of the condition.

This doesn’t mean just because an employee didn’t let the owner know about a broken step that it negates responsibility for resulting injuries. But it could impact the amount of responsibility placed upon the owner.

Defenses in a Stair Accident

There are several defenses that the accused could use when it comes to accidents that occur on stairs.

One of the most popular is that the injured person was careless; for instance, if the injured person was:

  • running up or down the stairs;
  • not holding onto the railing;
  • taking the steps two at a time; or
  • was distracted by something else, such as texting.

Even if the person is found to be partially at fault, it still could result in compensation. However, the amount may be reduced by the amount of fault the injured person is assigned.

Evidence in a Stair Accident

When the hazardous condition is obvious, pictures can tell a lot about what happened. If it’s possible, a photograph should be taken immediately after the accident. Waiting could result in the condition being fixed in the meantime or a correction (such as a warning sign being posted) when it wasn’t there before.

Another type of evidence would be testimony from witnesses. If there were others who saw what happened, their statements could support an injured person’s version of the accident.

There may even be building codes that could prove the owner was liable. Let’s say there wasn’t a railing or the stairs were very deep -- there could be specifications that must be met with regard to these circumstances. Building code violations can be very helpful as evidence.

Proving fault in a stair accident can be challenging, but it’s worth the fight for justice when someone has been seriously injured. A Long Island personal injury attorney, at Gacovino Lake & Associates, can help those who pursue compensation, for accidents on stairs, through a fall accident liability claim.

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