Can I sue for falling down the stairs?
More than 1 million people in the United States are treated in emergency rooms for stair-related injuries every year. If you fell down the stairs on someone else’s property, you may be able to sue the property owner to recover medical expenses and other damages.
Let’s take a look at stair-related accidents and when a personal injury lawsuit may be appropriate.
Common causes of staircase accidents
Some people fall down stairs because they’re not paying attention or they’re moving too fast. But more often than not, people fall down stairs because of some condition that’s present on the stairs or in the stairwell.
Here are some common causes of staircase accidents:
- Slippery surfaces. Certain surfaces, such as worn carpet or highly-polished wood, are particularly slippery. The mathematical term used to describe the slipperiness of a surface is “coefficient of friction” (COF). A low COF indicates that the force required for sliding to occur is less (in other words, it’s easier to slip) than the force required when the COF is high.
- Icy, snow, or other liquid substances. Liquid substances on steps and landings can cause serious slip and fall accidents. In most cases, residential and commercial property owners have a duty to remove ice and snow from steps within a reasonable amount of time.
- Poor lighting. Poor lighting in stairways and stairwells can make it difficult to see obstructions, hazards, and foot clearances. One study indicates that compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs when first turned on do not provide adequate lighting and high-powered LED bulbs may be a safer alternative.
- Inadequate handrails. When handrails are loose, the wrong height, or missing altogether, falls become more likely. Most states have building codes that address handrail requirements.
- Stair height and depth. Tread depths and riser heights all impact how easily a person can navigate a staircase. Most states have building code requirements that address stair height and depth.
- Other hazards. We’ve all encountered uneven steps, missing steps, warped wood, or some other condition that makes navigating stairs a little more difficult.
Common injuries from falling down stairs
A study published in The American Journal of Emergency Medicine analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and found that 24 million patients were treated in emergency departments for stair-related injuries during a 23-year period.
The most common types of injuries were:
- Sprains and strains (32.3%)
- Soft tissue injuries (23.8%)
- Fractures (19.3%)
The most frequently injured body regions were:
- Lower extremities (42.1%)
- Head/neck (21.6%)
Fortunately, almost 94% of patients were treated and released from the hospital, but 6% were admitted for treatment of fractures or head injuries.
“Stairs are a common source of injury among all ages, and the frequency and rate of stair-related injuries are increasing,” said Dr. Gary Smith of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Although anyone can fall down the stairs, adults over age 85 and children under 3 years old have the highest rate of stair-related injuries.
When to see a doctor after a fall
It’s never a bad idea to get checked out by a doctor after falling down the stairs. However, there are certain symptoms that may indicate a serious condition. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should get yourself to the emergency room as soon as possible:
- Loss of consciousness (even briefly)
- Severe headache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bleeding that doesn’t stop after 15 minutes of pressure
- Obvious fracture
- Loss of feeling in any of the extremities
- Difficulty speaking
When can you file a lawsuit for falling down stairs?
To file a lawsuit against a property owner for falling down their stairs, you need to prove that the property owner or their employee was responsible for your fall (through their actions or inactions).
For example, you probably can’t file a lawsuit if you fell down the stairs at a restaurant because you were intoxicated, but you can probably file a lawsuit if you fell down the stairs because 1 of the wooden steps at the restaurant was broken.
In most states, premises liability laws and building codes require property owners to keep stairs in a reasonably safe condition. Just how safe depends on the type of property. For example, commercial establishments must generally keep their stairs in a safer condition than residential homeowners.
To hold a property owner legally responsible for your injuries, you have to prove 1 of the following:
- The owner of the property (or their employee) caused the dangerous condition (spill, broken step, etc.) that caused you to fall,
- The owner of the property (or their employee) knew of the dangerous condition but failed to do anything about it, or
- The owner of the property (or their employee) should have known of the dangerous condition because a reasonable person would have discovered the condition and removed or repaired it.
Let’s take a look at an example:
In this example, the restaurant would likely be held liable for Angela’s damages because the restaurant knew about the dangerous condition and failed to do anything about it.
On the other hand, if the restaurant wasn’t told about the broken step and the step had been broken just minutes before Angela fell, the restaurant probably wouldn’t be held liable because the restaurant could not reasonably be expected to know about and repair a dangerous condition so soon after it appeared.
The role of insurance in stair accidents
If you fall on the steps of residential property because of a dangerous condition, your medical expenses will probably be covered by the homeowner's insurance liability policy. Similarly, if you fall on the steps of a commercial establishment, your injuries will probably be covered by the commercial establishment’s commercial general liability policy.
The fact that insurance coverage may exist means you stand a better chance of receiving compensation for your injuries. However, you’ll still need to prove liability, as insurance companies have insurance defense lawyers ready to contest your claim.
What to do after you fall down stairs
If you fall down the stairs on someone else’s property, there are a few steps you can take to improve your chances of recovering damages down the road:
- Get medical attention. Your health should always be your top priority. What’s more, seeking medical attention right after a fall makes it more difficult for the defendant to argue that you weren’t seriously hurt as a result of the fall.
- Take photographs. Photographs of the scene of the fall, especially the dangerous condition that caused the fall, may help support your case down the road. The more pictures you take, the better. In addition to the dangerous condition, take pictures that capture the amount of light (or lack of light) and the signs (or lack of signs) in the area.
- Gather witness contact information. Did anyone see you fall? Write down their name, telephone number, and address. It’s also a good idea to write down the names of the employees working at the time of your fall, assuming you can do so safely.
Finally, if you suffered an injury as a result of falling down someone else’s stairs, it’s a good idea to reach out to a personal injury attorney. Most initial consultations are free and you can find an attorney in your area using our free online directory.
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