Stairs and steps pose certain risks that are easily apparent, as well as other risks that may be less obvious. Many people get injured by tripping and falling on stairs at various types of properties, ranging from private residences to shopping malls and hotels. These accidents can lead to premises liability claims.
To show fault based on a premises liability theory, the victim needs to prove either that the property owner caused the hazard that resulted in the accident on the stairs, or that they were aware or should have been aware of the hazard but failed to fix it. Whether a property owner should have been aware of a certain hazard is a fact-specific inquiry that involves considering what a reasonable property owner would have known and done in the circumstances. Any fault by the victim also will be taken into account under the comparative negligence rule and may be used to reduce any eventual damages award. For example, if the hazard on the stairs was visible, but the victim tripped because they were distracted, this may reduce their compensation for the accident.
Building Code Violations
A building code violation must be related to the cause of the plaintiff’s injury to be used as evidence of a defendant’s negligence.
If a property owner violated a building code in your state or county, this may provide strong evidence of liability. In some states, a violation of a building code automatically leads to a finding that the defendant was negligent, although causation still needs to be established. For example, the riser and the run of each step need to be a certain height and depth, respectively. (The riser is the vertical part of a step, while the run is the horizontal part.) The steps on a stair can vary somewhat in height and depth from each other, but a building code usually will permit only a slight variance and will set the exact amount of variance that is allowed.
Also, some types of stairs will need to have a handrail for safety. You can research whether a building code required a handrail for the stairs on which you fell. If there was no handrail, or if the handrail was too high or low, or too narrow for a person to grasp effectively, you may be able to hold the property owner liable if an appropriate handrail could have prevented your fall.
Rain, Snow, and Ice
Property owners in climates with significant amounts of rain, snow, or ice will need to monitor any outdoor stairs on the property to make sure that these substances do not accumulate. Although they cannot necessarily clear the stairs of snow or ice immediately, they should not allow this hazard to persist for an unreasonable time. They should also avoid using surfaces that are prone to becoming slippery if rain, snow, or ice is frequent. That said, people walking on outdoor stairs in snowy or icy conditions should pay attention to their footing, since the presence of snow or ice is usually visible.
A defendant might argue that a plaintiff should have exercised more caution when a hazardous weather condition, such as ice or snow on a stairway, should have been obvious.
Wear and Tear
Stairs may become slippery or uneven if they are worn down over time. Wear and tear can affect both a carpet on the stair and the surface underneath. Since these hazards are generally hard to notice for someone unfamiliar with the stairs, a property owner is likely to be liable for failing to reasonably address wear and tear. They also may be held accountable for choosing a surface that is prone to being slippery, such as marble or tiles, if a person slips and falls.