How Common are Stairwell Accidents?
February 12, 2021
According to a study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine (AJEM), stairwells are a common source of injury for people of all ages. Approximately 50 percent of the homes and apartments in the United States contain stairs. In addition, stairwell slip and fall accidents account for a significant percentage of serious injuries on jobsites. Understanding how stairwell accidents happen can help people of all ages avoid serious injury. However, many accidents occur because of the negligence of another party. Individuals who are injured on stairwells as a result of someone else’s negligence may be able to file a premises liability claim to recover damages. An experienced premises liability lawyer can provide invaluable assistance to victims and their families.
Who is Most Likely to Get Hurt in a Stairwell Accident?
Approximately one million Americans are injured in stairwell accidents each year, and these injuries account for more than $90 billion annually in direct and indirect costs, according to the AJEM study. Although injuries from stairwell accidents happen to people of all ages, those most likely to get seriously hurt include the following individuals:
- Workers in construction who perform tasks on above-level workspaces
- Adults over 85 years old
- Children under age four
- Young adults in their 20s
- Women, who account for about 62 percent of stair-related injuries
Workers in trucking and construction experience high rates of injuries because of falls to a lower level, which include stairwells and platforms, as well as roofs, ladders, and scaffolding.
What Types of Injuries are Common in Stairwell Accidents?
The types of injuries most commonly suffered in stairwell accidents often depend on the age of the victim. For example, head and neck injuries occur in about 90 percent of young children who are injured in stairwell accidents, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Most of these injuries are minor. However, among older adults, falling down the stairs results in serious fractures or head injuries in many patients. Accident victims with head injuries are much more likely to die than those who suffer other types of injuries, with the risk of death increasing with age.
Overall, the most common types of injuries resulting from stairwell accidents include the following:
- Broken wrists or arms
- Bruises and contusions
- Dislocated shoulders
- Hip fractures
- Knee injuries
- Spinal cord damage
- Sprains and strains
- Traumatic brain injury
Spinal cord damage and traumatic brain injuries are among the most serious consequences of a fall down a flight of stairs. Spinal cord damage can result in paralysis or chronic, debilitating pain. Although some brain injury victims are fortunate enough to recover, others experience long-term effects, including decreased cognitive function, language difficulties, and loss of motor skills.
These and other conditions may prevent stairwell accident victims from returning to work, resulting in a loss of income, as well as mounting medical bills. Individuals who are injured in stairwell accidents at work or on someone else’s property should seek legal counsel to determine whether another party may be held responsible for paying financial damages.
Where Do Stairwell Accidents Occur?
Among very young children and adults over the age of 65, most stairwell accidents occur at home. However, working-age adults routinely face the risk of injury in a stairwell accident in a variety of locations, including the following:
- Construction sites
- Factories, warehouses, loading docks, and other work areas
- Retail stores and other business establishments
- Rented apartments or houses
- Vacation destinations, amusement parks, and entertainment venues
Outside the home, accidents can easily happen when a person is using a stairwell with which they are not familiar. For example, Galfand Berger LLP has represented victims of amusement park accidents. One case involved a 45-year-old man who fell on an exit stairway at a Pennsylvania amusement park. The man had been riding on a park attraction when it broke down. He slipped on a wet surface as he tried to access the emergency stairway, which was more than 20 feet above ground. He suffered neck injuries that required surgery. Galfand Berger LLP enlisted the assistance of a renowned amusement ride expert who demonstrated that the park lacked adequate evacuation procedures, despite the fact that the attraction had a history of breaking down mid-ride. Galfand Berger LLP was able to obtain a settlement of more than $400,000 for the injured man.
Why Do Stairwell Accidents Occur?
Doctors, research scientists, and experts in ergonomics have conducted numerous studies to determine how accidents happen on stairs. Their findings indicate that it is a combination of how people descend stairs, as well as the specific design, installation, and maintenance of the stairwell. Research includes the following reasons on why stairwell accidents happen:
- Uneven or rotting steps. Accidents are more likely to happen when stairs have disproportionate height or depth, or if the wood is chipped or rotten.
- Poor lighting. Restaurants and bars are often dimly lit. This creates dangerous conditions on stairwells that may lead to restrooms or adjacent dining rooms.
- Worn carpet or loose treads. To prevent accidents, the leading edges of stair treads should be well maintained and exhibit color contrast, such as yellow or white.
- Missing or defective handrails. Many stairwell accidents are easily prevented by handrails. Power grip handrails are best; these allow a person’s entire hand to grab the rail, not just the fingers.
- Clutter on steps. Property owners are responsible for removing debris or spills from stairs as soon as they are aware of the dangerous condition.
- Snow, ice, or leaves on outside stairwells. Failure to clear outside stairs is a major cause of stairwell accidents in the fall, winter, and early spring.
- Stair patterns. When stair patterns are confusing, people may not notice the last step, creating a phenomenon known as bottom-of-stair illusion, which may cause people to trip and fall. According to many studies, the design of the top three and bottom three steps is most important to preventing stairwell accidents.
People visiting public buildings, including restaurants, hotels, stores, and other business establishments, may step off the top of a low stairway into thin air, not realizing that they were approaching a stair at all. These individuals are injured because they failed to perceive the change in floor level. Property owners can prevent these types of accidents by installing warning signs or reflective tape to make the stairwell or change in floor level more visible.
Who is Liable for Stairwell Accident Injuries?
Property owners are responsible for the proper design, installation, and maintenance of stairwells. Individuals who are injured because of an unsafe or dangerous condition on someone else’s property may have a legitimate basis for filing a premises liability claim against the property owner. Property owners have a duty of care to maintain a safe premises for tenants and legitimate visitors, even if the accident victim may have been partially at-fault.
Galfand Berger LLP has won multiple cases for stairwell accident victims in Pennsylvania, include a wrongful death claim for the family of a college student who died after falling down the stairs of a rented property after a night of drinking. The stairwell lacked adequate handrails, which would have prevented the young man’s accident. In addition, lawyers were able to demonstrate that the landlord amassed building code violations on his properties over the years. Galfand Berger LLP obtained a settlement totaling $1.75 million dollars for the victim’s family from multiple parties, including the landlord.
In another case, our client was on a weekend vacation at a popular Poconos area resort when she tripped on a defect in the carpeting in her rental villa, causing her to fall down several stairs and break her leg. Our investigation revealed that the carpet in question had not been inspected or renovated since it was installed, causing it to bunch up at the top of an interior stairwell, creating a half-inch tripping hazard. Defendants argued that the defect in the carpeting was “trivial” and filed a Motion to have the lawsuit dismissed. The court denied the resort’s Motion, and attorney Michael Malvey resolved the case after mediation for $300,000.00.
What Should I Do if I am Injured in a Stairwell Accident?
Those injured in a stairwell accident on someone else’s property should seek medical treatment immediately, even if the victim does not think their injuries are serious. Minor bumps to the head, neck, or back can easily develop into serious medical conditions. If possible, someone should take photographs of the stairwell and any objects or debris involved in the accident. The victim should notify the manager or property owner, but they should not make any statements regarding fault. The owner’s contact details, as well as those of any witnesses, should be obtained. The victim should contact a premises liability lawyer who is qualified to assess the claim and provide legal guidance regarding next steps.
Philadelphia Premises Liability Lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP Provide Experienced Legal Help for Individuals Injured in Stairwell Accidents
The Philadelphia premises liability lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP have years of experience providing professional legal counsel to individuals injured on another party’s premises. We are available to review your case and give you the assistance you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-222-8792 or contact us online. From our offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we proudly serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.