Injuries from Falls on Stairs in Virginia
It is easy to think of stairs as anything but dangerous. Many of us have probably gone up and down stairs thousands of times without any sort of problem, so we naturally think that injuries caused by falls on stairs are either uncommon or not that serious. But those who have experienced a fall on defective or dangerous stairs know that some stairs can present a number of dangers that can create serious risks for catastrophic injuries.
Statistics regarding injuries for stair-related falls are sobering. To begin with, serious injuries and even death can occur due to falls, and falls are recognized as the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).[i]
Stairway falls are a particularly dangerous type of fall-related accidents. According to the government, stair-related falls are the number two cause of fatalities in the workplace behind car and truck accidents.[ii] Falls from stairs are also one of the leading causes of death for elderly individuals. Studies show that the injuries sustained in stairs-related falls can be significant, ranging from significant knee and ankle injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and even death due to significant head and brain injuries, internal injuries and bleeding, and injuries to one’s neck.[iii]
When are there grounds to recover compensation for injuries?
In light of the number of injuries that arise from stairs, it is important to know when a property owner or establishment might be responsible for injuries caused by dangerous stairs at their property.
A property owner in Virginia is required to take a couple of actions to protect visitors to their property. First and foremost, an owner must use “ordinary care” to have the premises in a “reasonably safe condition” for their visitor, but the owner is not required to guarantee that their visitor will be safe on their property.[iv] This means that a property owner or occupier needs to provide a reasonably safe environment for their guests, but it need not be perfect.
Second, a property owner or occupier must use ordinary care to warn their invited guest of “any unsafe condition about which the occupant knows, or by the use of ordinary care should know, unless the unsafe condition” is “open and obvious to a person using ordinary care for “his own safety.”[v] A property owner does not actually have to fix an unreasonably dangerous condition on his property so long as he or she warns visitors of any dangers that are not “open and obvious.”
Common Safety Issues in Dangerous Stair Cases
Although stairs are always dangerous, there must be an additional danger for a stair-related injury to rise to the level of creating a lawsuit. Put another way, even stairs that are perfectly constructed present a type of danger that all users accept, and that danger does not make the stairs unreasonably dangerous. Instead, there must be a type of additional defect or danger that makes the steps or stairs particularly dangerous.
There are a number of situations where stairs might rise to the level of being unreasonably dangerous. Here are some:
- Stairs of incorrect height or depth. Steps on a stair case are constructed with a certain height, called a rise or riser. Each step also has a landing area known as a run or tread. Building codes and other safety codes require that each riser and run be of a certain height and length, and having rise that is too high or too short, or having a tread or run that is too long on too short, can create a tripping or fall hazard for someone using the stairs. This may cause the steps to be unreasonably dangerous.
- Stairs of inconsistent height or depth. Though uncommon and a building code and safety code violation, there are times that certain steps on a staircase will have inconsistent riser heights as compared to the other steps on that same staircase. Or, similarly, perhaps there may be a step that has an inconsistent tread length or depth. Either of these conditions can cause an unsuspecting user to trip or stumble on the inconsistent step.
- Limited rise stairs. Limited rise stairs are those stairs that have just a limited number of risers between two levels, such as a small staircase of one to four stairs. These small sets of stairs can be particularly dangerous because visitors may not even recognize that one or two steps even exist.
- Foreign objects or obstacles on steps. A particular danger may exist due to the presence of foreign or inappropriate objects or things being on steps. It may be torn carpeting, ice or slippery liquids on steps, or any other obstacles that create a slipping or tripping danger. With these types of cases, however, there will always be a question of whether the visitor to the property should have noticed the object that caused them to slip or trip.
- Lack of visual cues and warnings. The steps may not be unusually dangerous except that there are not any “visual cues” to differentiate differences in riser height, tread length, or the fact that a step exists at all. This typically occurs with lack of differences in colors between steps and landings or lack of obvious differences in materials and textures between steps and landing areas. The absence of visual cues reduces depth perception and increases the risk of injury.
- Improper lighting. A set of stairs may lack proper lighting and illumination to identify each step and landing area. This may make the steps unreasonably dangerous.
- Children and stairs. Stairs present a specific danger to children and the elderly. Studies indicate that approximately 100,000 children under the age of five are taken to hospitals for injuries that are sustained from falls down stairs.[vi] Those studies indicate that falls on stairs are the number one cause of injury for 1-year old children in the United States.
If you or a loved one have been injured due to a slip, trip, stumble, or fall on a set of dangerous stairs or steps, you may have a claim for monetary damages you suffered. Pursuing a claim based on falls on stairs or steps is difficult and complicated. It is important you speak with a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury attorney to see if you have the grounds for a claim.
Please contact Robert E. Byrne, Jr. at (434) 817-3100 to speak with an experienced and knowledgeable slip and fall Charlottesville Va attorney. Bob has experience addressing building code and other violations for stairs and steps and he can let you know whether you have a case worth pursuing.
[i] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gove/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html
[ii] National Safety Council.
[iv] VMJI No. 23.040, Occupant’s Duty to Invitee.