Falling or slipping on a stair case can lead to devastating injuries and even death depending on how you fall, your age and condition. Tumbling down a flight of stairs can easily lead to head and neck injuries, a broken pelvis or fractured limbs.
An injury sustained on someone else’s property comes under the principles of premises liability law. Homeowners, business owners and public entities have certain degrees of responsibility toward guests and members of the public though different laws regarding notice and liability apply depending on the status of the owner and, in some cases, on the status of the injured party.
If you or a loved one sustained an injury on a stairway, there are things you need to know about preserving your claim and having a better opportunity to receive adequate compensation.
Causes of Stair Accidents
Accidents on a stairway may result from:
- Crack in the stair
- Uneven stairs
- Ripped carpeting
- Object or slippery substance left on the stairs
- Snow and ice accumulation
- Inadequate lighting
- Lack of handrails
- Defect in the handrails
Liability of Owner or Occupier
If a home or business is being rented, then the owner may not be liable for any accident occurring on the leased premises since the hazard may have originated by or been caused by the renter alone. In other cases, if a contractor caused the hazard, then both the owner and contractor may be accountable in some cases.
Homeowners and Landlords
A homeowner has an legal obligation to invitees or others lawfully on their property such as police or fire personnel or meter readers to warn of known hazards. For example, if they are going to use a stairway and a step is uneven, then the owner or renter must warn of the hazard. Homeowner are generally not required to inspect their property for hidden dangers or for hazards that just recently came into existence.
Business owners have a higher duty of care to customers or licensees and must periodically inspect their premises for hazards that pose an unreasonable and foreseeable risk of harm. Regarding stairways, business owners do have to have had notice of the hazard, either directly by observation or having been informed of it, or constructively if the hazard has been in place long enough so that it should have been seen. The owner in such cases must either remove the hazard or pace adequate and conspicuous warnings.
A particularly devastating case occurred in Utah when a man descending a stairway in a restaurant moved to the side to allow some people to pass and leaned into a boiler room door on the side that was not secured. He fell into the opening and down a flight of stairs where he sustained fatal injuries. The case may come before a jury who must decide whether the unsecured door was a foreseeable hazard that the owner had a duty to either warn about to those using the stairs or at least taken steps to secure the door so that it could not open so easily.
Public entities are also liable the extent as business owners but Massachusetts laws limits their exposure to liability if the hazard is in a public way (passageway such as an alley or roadway open to the public) where the maximum you can recover is $5000. An exception exists regarding injuries in parks and other recreational sites in our state where no fees are required for recreational use. In these cases, the city or municipal entity is immune from civil suit for any injuries that occur.
Claims against public entities where an accident occurred on a public way must be submitted to the proper entity within 30 days. Further, you must assert and prove no contributory negligence on your own part. Other claims against public entities must be submitted within 2 years and a claim filed within 3 years of the accident.
Snow and Ice
Massachusetts has particular laws and legal obligations to homeowners and business owners regarding clearance of snow and ice. Since 2010, anyone injured from ice or snow has only 30 days to present an injury claim to the property owner, whether it is a private, business or public owner.
Property owners have a legal duty to clear snow and ice off their premises within a reasonable time after a storm, regardless of the amount of accumulation as it constitutes a dangerous condition. What constitutes a reasonable time depends on the circumstances. After a snow or ice storm, if a business typically opens to customers by 8:00 am, then the owner needs to clear the sidewalk where he knows patrons and others will be walking before it opens. If a homeowner, then the owner will likely be given a longer time to clear the hazard after the storm subsides but probably not more than several hours.
Damages in a Stair Accident Claim
Damages in a slip and fall, stair accident claim and other premises liability matters depends on how clear liability is established, whether the property owner knew of the hazard but was indifferent to it, and the extent of the injuries sustained. Compensation against public entities in Massachusetts can be limited as in those relating to public ways and notice of a claim must be submitted within a certain period in some cases.
In a stair accident claim, your damages may include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future wage loss
- Lost earning capacity
- Diminution in quality of life
- Permanent disability and disfigurement
- Pain and suffering
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
Contact stair accident lawyer Neil Burns if you or a loved one was injured in a fall while on a stairway in either a private home, business or in a public building, Mr. Burns has been handling these and other premises liability claims for over 30 years and will carefully assess and discuss your claim. Call now for a free consultation.