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Floridians walk up and down staircases every day — on their way to work, to their home, or going to a friend’s house. When a person sustains an injury because of a staircase defect or hazard, they may have the right to pursue compensation against the owner of the property where the stairs are located.
Unfortunately, staircase accidents are far too common and they can be serious enough to cause brain damage, spinal cord injuries, broken bones, paralysis and more. If something like this happens to you or someone you know, it is important to reach out to a skilled West Palm Beach premises accident attorney who can work with you, gather the details of the incident, and guide you through the entire process.
At Winig Law, we know stairway accidents can result in serious, even fatal injuries. Because the risk of severe injury is so high in stairwells, property owners have a duty to be aware of potential dangers and to regularly ensure stairwells are hazard-free.
CAUSES OF STAIRWAY ACCIDENTS
Most people know when climbing or descending stairways they must use an extra degree of caution. That means holding onto the handrail, looking ahead and paying attention to each step.
But even so, there may be dangerous conditions that aren’t immediately obvious. Here are some of the more common dangerous stair conditions that may cause slip-and-fall accidents on the stairs:
- Wet Surfaces - Rain, snow, or ice on outdoor stairs increases the likelihood of accidents. On certain surfaces, it might be tough to see. Outdoor stairs must be constructed and maintained to avoid excessive buildup of water or ice and must have surfaces that do not become extra-slippery when wet. And if you fall on a stair without an anti-slip surface such as non-skid treads, the owner may likewise be liable for your injuries.
- Worn down surfaces - A common hidden stair danger is worn-down carpet or wood that makes the “run” of the stair dangerous. The “run” of the stair is the part of the step your foot lands on. There is also a possibility on a stairway—particularly one that gets a lot of foot traffic— that the carpet or wood has become dangerously worn. Areas where the foot is most likely to land are the sections that tend to see the most wear-and-tear. This can cause the walking surface to become slippery, even if it’s not actually wet.
- Polished surfaces - Some stairs are made of tile or highly polished wood that is more slippery than stone, carpet, or painted wood. As a result, they are more likely to be slip-prone than carpet, stone or painted wood. The property owner may be liable for your injuries because the owner sacrificed safety for beauty.
- Poor Lighting - Property owners need also consider the role inadequate lighting can play in these cases. Many areas with stairs lack sufficient natural light, and must have adequate artificial lighting so that users can see where they are stepping.
- Improper maintenance - Finally, those responsible for stairway maintenance should ensure the area is free of garbage, debris or other material blocking safe ingress or egress on the stairway.
Property owners may also face liability if the stairway structure presents a building code violation. If your fall occurred on, or was worsened by, a stair or part of a stair that failed to meet the building code requirements, you have a strong argument that the stairs were dangerous. This is true even if the violation is a matter of a fraction of an inch. A very small differential can make a set of stairs dangerous.
Depending on the nature of the hazard, this can be true even if the property owner didn’t build the stairs.
- Improper Stair Height or Depth - The vertical part of the step is called the “riser” and horizontal part of each step is called the “run.” Building codes prescribe the maximum and minimum measurements for the riser height and the run depth.
- Florida Building Code Section 1009.3 specifies that stair riser heights can only range from 4 inches to 7 inches, with depths a minimum of 11 inches.
- If either the riser or run violates the code, the stairs are defective. Once you have shown that the stair is defective, you must still prove that the defect caused your fall. But unless the building owner’s insurance company can clearly show that you fell because of your own carelessness, the building code violation will likely be enough to prove the owner’s liability and get a favorable settlement for you.
- Drainage - Section 1009.5.2 specifies that outdoor stairs and outdoor approaches to stairs must be designed so that water won’t accumulate on walking surfaces.
- Handrails - Section 1009.11 requires that all stairways have handrails of adequate strength and attachment on each side, except where there is a handrail in the middle or in some residential structures where only one handrail is required, or in outdoor decks and patios where there is only a single change in elevation.
- If you fall on stairs that should have had a handrail but do not, and the lack of a handrail contributed to your fall, the property owner is likely liable for your injuries. Moreover, most building codes require that one or more stair handrails be of a certain height or width, and that they be installed in a proper manner. Reaching for a handrail that was installed at the wrong height can cause you to fall even if there is nothing else wrong with the stairs.
- Uneven Stair Height or Depth - Building codes also set forth the maximum variance from one step to the next, which is the difference in the height or depth of any one step from another. There must be dimensional uniformity, so walkers aren’t surprised by a sudden change in the level of the stairwell. We may lose our balance and fall even if the difference is only a small one.
LIABILITY FOR STAIR ACCIDENTS
People slip, trip and fall on stairs all the time. Property owners may be liable for accidents on stairs just as they are liable for slip and fall accidents. However, stairs have a number of additional dangers — some latent (hidden) and some patent (obvious) — that merit special consideration. If you’ve had an accident on stairs, here is how to determine whether the property owner is at fault for causing the accident.
PROVING YOUR CASE
When someone is injured in a staircase accident the victim must be able to prove that the premises owner’s negligence caused or contributed to your injuries. Whether the cause of the staircase accident was a broken guardrail or handrail, cuts in the rug, bad lighting, or broken wood, a West Palm Beach premises liability lawyer at Winig Law can help you identify your legal rights and options, and how best to pursue a claim for compensation.
Under the following circumstances, a property owner may be legally responsible for the injuries a victim suffered from slipping or tripping and falling on the owner’s property:
- The owner or landlord knew of a dangerous condition or defect but did not take the necessary steps to remedy the situation and prevent injury
- The owner or landlord caused or created the dangerous condition or defect
- The property owner or an employee reasonably should have known of the dangerous condition or surface because a “reasonable” person taking care of the property would have discovered the dangerous condition and removed it or repaired it.
- Another factor is whether the property owner or an employee gave any notice of the dangerous condition or surface on the stairs, such posting a wet floor sign.
It is the responsibility of property owners and landlords to make sure staircases abide by regulations set forth by the Florida Building Code to ensure the safety of all patrons or residents. If something goes wrong and someone is injured, the property owner may be held accountable for damages sustained by the victim.
In determining fault in a slip or trip and fall case, the insurance company’s adjuster or court jury will determine whether the you were put on notice of the dangerous condition and will consider whether you share some of the fault (in other words, whether your own carelessness contributed to the accident). In Florida, this is the doctrine of “comparative negligence”. The insurance adjuster or jury will evaluate your own carelessness or reasonableness in going up or down the stairs, focusing on the moments just before the accident occurred.
But, as stated above, a stair accident cases are often more complicated than the typical slip and fall case. Stairs have inherent dangers not usually present on level surfaces. Moreover, some defects in stairs may remain hidden until even after an accident happens. For example, if a step was rotten and just ready to give way, then that may not have been evident when the injured party stepped onto the stair. You may have to investigate the construction and maintenance of the stairs to determine what happened, and whether the stairs should have been constructed or maintained in a different manner.
WE HELP YOU SEEK THE COMPENSATION YOU NEED
If you are injured, you may be able to seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to, pain and suffering, medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, lost income from being unable to work, future lost wages if permanently disabled, and more. To fully understand your situation and learn what kind of compensation you may be able to recover contact Winig Law. Stephen Winig has the knowledge, experience, and skill you will need to move forward with your claim. He will gather the evidence necessary to put together a strong case on your behalf and work to hold the negligent party accountable under the law. He will stand by your side.
Personal Injury Attorney Stephen L. Winig, Esq. is a member of the Palm Beach County Bar Association, and is licensed to practice before all
Florida State Courts, as well as the United States District Courts for Southern and Middle Florida.
Winig Law routinely handles cases throughout Palm Beach County including West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Wellington,
Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens, Greenacres, Lake Worth, Royal Palm Beach and surrounding areas.
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The Winig Law Firm, P.A.
1615 Forum Pl, Suite 3A