The Fault for Stair Accidents

Thousands are injured each year in slip and fall accidents, many of which occur on stairs. Premises liability laws require that the owner of a property, whether commercial, government, or private must maintain it so that people can walk safely throughout public areas.

Walking areas must be free of debris, clutter, spills, damage, snow, ice, or any other hazard which could cause a person to slip and fall. This includes stairs, but proving fault may be particularly tricky because of the vertical nature of the surface.

Stairs pose a risk just because of design. As anyone with a child can attest, navigating stairs takes skills beyond merely walking a horizontal surface. For good reason, stairs especially must be kept clear, clean, and maintained.

When a person falls on stairs, liability law requires the same tests for even surfaces. Either the owner or an employee caused the hazard which resulted in a fall, that person knew about it and did nothing, or they should have reasonably known. If any of these three elements can be proven, fault rests with the property owner.

Maintenance, Cleanliness, and Appearance of Stairs Play a Role in Fault
Stairs must be maintained. Over time, surfaces such as carpet may become worn and slick, or the carpet may have torn and frayed, yet was ignored by the owners or property managers. Rather than clear ice and snow, the stairs may be left covered, creating a needless hazard.

Handrails too play a role in stair safety. If the handrails become damaged or are of the wrong height and design to safely allow people to navigate the stairs, the owner may be found at fault.

Even the choice of materials used in the construction of the stairs plays a role in whether the owner is liable for injuries caused by accidental falls. If an owner chooses a material which adds to the beauty of the staircase, yet fails to remain safe because it is smooth, the owner may be liable for damages in the event of a staircase accident.

Finally, the stairs must be uniform and constructed to specific standards. The Uniform Construction Code of Pennsylvania requires that stairs have a riser height that is no more than 8 ΒΌ inches. This is the vertical distance. In addition, there may be no variance greater than 3/8 inch between steps.

Many bodily functions occur without thought. When moving, our brain anticipates for conditions. It automatically gauges the next step by the distance and height we moved with previous steps. If one stair step is higher or lower than the others, we may stumble and fall. We may think ourselves clumsy, but if the variance is more than legally permitted, this may not be so. The owner may be liable for our injuries.