Missing nosing on a stair can cause a serious stairway accident. A stair’s nosing gives you more room to step your foot or can keep it from slipping. If there is a lack of sufficient nosing, then the stairway becomes more dangerous, especially when you are climbing down.
Victims of these accidents can hold the property owner responsible through premises liability.
What is stair nosing?
The nosing on a stair can refer to 2 things:
- the part of the tread that overhangs the riser, or
- the strip of colorful non-slip material that is added to the front of the stair tread.
The tread is the part of the stair that you put your foot on when you ascend or descend the stairwell. The riser goes upward from the top of one tread to the bottom of the tread above it. The nosing is located at the edge of the tread or is the part of the tread that extends out past the riser below it.
The purpose of the nosing is to:
- add extra space for you to step on,
- provide an abrasive material to provide slip resistance and keep your feet from sliding off the edge of the tread, and/or
- give a visual indicator of where the tread ends and whether there are more steps in the stairwell.
Many jurisdictions have building codes that require building stairs to have nosing, especially if the tread depth is shorter than a specified length.1
How can missing nosing contribute to an accident?
If there is no nosing on a stair, it can cause an accident in several ways. You can:
- not have enough room for your foot on the tread, which can make you fall forward or lose your balance when your foot slides off the step,
- lose your grip on the step, or
- fail to see that there is another step in the stairwell and fall down.
Additionally, if there is stair nosing, but the nosing projects too far out from the edge of the stair, it can constitute a trip hazard. If the nose of the tread is too long, you can catch the leading edge and fall up the steps. A stairwell’s nosing profile can also cause accidents, as well. If the edge is beveled or rounded, it can fail to prevent your foot from rolling over the end.
Can other parts of the stairwell cause an accident?
Yes, the other aspects of a step and stairwell can also cause an accident, including the:
- stair treads,
- risers, and
Defects or problems with each of these aspects of a stairwell are often difficult to see. People who do not regularly use the stairwell are unlikely to notice them. This can put them in danger of a serious fall.
Stair treads can be dangerous in several ways. They can contribute to a fall if they are:
- slippery, which can cause your foot to lose traction and make you lose your balance,
- weak or old stairs, in which case they can break under your weight,
- rotted wooden steps, which can buckle when you step on them,
- slanted away from the riser, often from a rotten stair stringer, which can make you lose your balance and fall down the stairs, or
- too short, which can make it difficult for you to land your foot in a safe area, particularly if you have large feet or unstable shoes that are prone to missteps.
All of these problems can lead to liability on the behalf of the property owner. They are responsible for keeping you safe on the premises.
A stairwell’s riser height can also contribute to an accident if it is:
- uneven, which can put the stair treads at fluctuating distances and cause you to trip on a tread that is too high or fall on one that is below where you expected it to be, or
- broken, which can break under your weight and make you fall.
These dangers are nearly impossible to spot until you have used the dangerous riser.
Additionally, stairwells with open risers can lead to accidents if your foot passes between the opening between the treads.
The handrails on a stairwell can also cause an accident. Some of the most common ways the stair railing can cause an injury are if they:
- are broken or not properly attached to the wall, in which case they can come off when you put your weight on them and cause you to fall,
- are missing,
- do not include balusters to prevent a fall into open space beside the stairwell, or
- are too low or high on the wall, which can make them difficult to use and impair their ability to hold your balance.
How can the property owner be held liable?
Yes, the property owner can be held liable for accidents that are caused by missing stair nosing. Generally, property owners have to take reasonable steps to keep their premises safe for visitors. In some states, the status of the visitor will matter.
The premises liability law in most states, including California, requires property owners to take reasonable steps to keep the property safe. If they fail to take those steps, and that failure was a substantial factor in your injury, they can be held liable.2
Those property owners can be:
- the owner of the property, like a homeowner,
- a tenant renting the property,
- a property management company that is responsible for maintaining it, or
- anyone else who is in charge of controlling the premises.
The steps that are reasonable will depend on the totality of the circumstances. This includes, but is not limited to:
- how foreseeable it was for the victim to be on the stairs at issue,
- whether there were signs warning of the danger,
- what type of footwear the victim was using at the time of the fall,
- how recently the hazard formed,
- whether the owner did not know how to replace broken steps correctly in a DIY project and failed to address the problem,
- whether the property owner knew about the hazard, and
- how clear the danger would have been to someone being reasonably careful.
In some other states, the status of the injured visitor matters. It can determine the duty of care that the property owner had to uphold. Generally, if you were a(n):
- invitee, or someone who is on the property for the owner’s benefit, the owner has to keep the property in good condition and also check for hazards that pose a threat,
- licensee, or a non-invitee who is on the property with the owner’s consent, the owner has to keep the property in good condition and warn of dangers that are not obvious, or
- trespasser, or someone who is on the property without the owner’s consent, the owner cannot deliberately injure them, and has to warn known trespassers about certain hazards.
In these states, it can be more difficult for some victims to file a stairway accident lawsuit against the property owner.