Slip and fall accidents can be caused by broken stairs and defective handrails. When you are injured in a broken stairway accident, the property owner may be liable for your damages. You can file a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation for:
A homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy may cover injuries that occur on the property. Commercial property insurance will generally cover stairway injuries on business properties. However, claims for coverage may involve issues of getting full compensation or insurance company bad faith.
- The stair manufacturing company,
- Architects or designers,
- Construction company,
- Contractor or subcontractor,
- Property or business owner, or
- Insurance companies.
Below, our stairway accident attorneys discuss the following frequently asked questions about broken stair accidents and defective stair injury lawsuits:
- 1. Who is at fault in a stairway accident lawsuit?
- 2. What damages are available after a stair accident lawsuit?
- 3. What are the causes of broken or defective stairs?
- 4. What are the injuries in stair accident lawsuits?
- 5. How should I deal with the insurance company after a stairway accident injury?
If you have further questions about stair accidents after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
When stairway accidents occur on someone else’s property, the occupier or property owner may be liable for any injuries based on premises liability laws. The owner’s insurance policy generally provides coverage for accidents that injure visitors or customers on the property.
If a stair accident is caused by defective stairs, whoever constructed the stairs or sold the stairway parts could also be liable for damages. Stairway accident lawsuits are generally based on one of the following theories of liability:
- Premises Liability,
- Product Liability, or
If a property owner fails to keep the property in a safe condition, and you are injured as a result, the property owner breached their duty of care. The property owner may then be liable for damages.1
Safe property conditions include keeping stairways in proper repair, fixing any broken stairs, and warning you of any non-obvious dangers. If you fall because of broken stairs or dangerous conditions in the stairway, the property owner may be liable for your damages.2
When a fall occurs on a residential property, the owner’s or renter’s property insurance will generally cover accidents, including stair injuries. However, when the insurance coverage is not enough to pay for the full amount of the damages, the property owner may be liable for damages.
Commercial property owners and occupiers also have a duty of care to visitors on the property, such as grocery stores, office buildings, malls, and restaurants. For commercial properties, the areas that must be kept in safe condition generally include connecting areas of the property, including hallways, sidewalks, and parking lots. In some cases, a management company may be responsible for the upkeep of the property.
It is up to a jury to decide if the property owner was reasonable in inspecting the property, repairing dangerous conditions, and responding to hazards in a timely manner. Under California law, a jury may look at some of the following factors in deciding whether the property owner or management company was reasonable:
- The likelihood of injury to a guest or visitor,
- The seriousness of possible injuries,
- The location of the property,
- The burden on the property owner to repair or avoid the risk, and
- The degree of control over the hazardous condition.3
Commercial properties often have higher coverage limits for personal injuries that occur on the business property. Commercial properties may also have multiple insurance policies and a claim may involve multiple defendants’ insurance companies.
Stair and stair part defects can happen anywhere along the manufacturing or design process. Product liability lawsuits are generally based on the following types of defects:
Under product liability laws, anyone who designs, manufactures, or sells a defective product is strictly liable for damages caused by the product defect, even if no specific person was negligent. In a product liability claim, you need to show the following:
- The defendant designed, sold, distributed, or manufactured the defective product;
- The product was defective when it left the defendants’ possession;
- You used the product in a reasonably foreseeable way; and
- You suffered damage as a result of the defective product.4
Example: Sigmund buys a Cut Rate Stairs railing system from Last Chance Depot. Sigmund installs the railing system according to the instructions provided but then falls when the rail comes off. If Sigmund files a product liability lawsuit against Cut Rate Stairs and Last Chance Depot, he only has to show a jury that the product was defective at the time he bought it.
If stairs were constructed in a negligent way, the individual who constructed or inspected the stairs may be liable for the faulty stairs. In a negligence claim for broken stairs, you must show the following:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care;
- The defendant breached that duty of care;
- The breach caused your injuries; and
- As a result of the breach, you suffered damages.5
1.4.1. Vicarious liability of construction companies
If the stair construction problems were caused by a construction worker, the construction company may also be vicariously liable for the employee’s negligence. This is important because an employer may have deeper pockets than the individual employee.6
When filing a lawsuit against the employer for the wrongful actions of the employee, you generally have to prove the following:
- You were harmed as a result of the employee’s negligence, and
- The negligent employee was acting within the scope of employment at the time of the accident.7
Example: Zach works for Savers Construction. While building deck stairs for a homeowner, Zach runs out of materials but fails to tell the homeowner. If the homeowner then injures himself on the unfinished stairs, Savers Construction may be vicariously liable for Zach’s negligence. In addition, Savers might be directly liable for negligent hiring and negligent supervision if they failed to adequately vet and monitor Zach.8
In a lawsuit for falling down stairs, you make a demand for money to compensate you for your injuries and losses. This compensation is known as “damages.”
The compensatory damages available after a stair accident lawsuit include:
- Medical bills,
- Ambulance and ER costs,
- Continuing medical treatment,
- Loss of income,
- Loss of earning potential,
- Compensation for scars, disfigurement, or the loss of a limb,
- Loss of consortium, and
- Pain and suffering.
2.1. Wrongful death lawsuits
In a fatal stair accident, the surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit for damages because the victim is no longer alive to make a claim.9 Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit can include:
- Funeral costs,
- Burial expenses,
- Loss of financial support, and
- Loss of companionship.
Causes of stair injuries may include:
- Rotten wooden supports,
- Rickety stair rails,
- Lack of stair rail required by building code,
- Step heights and lengths that are not to code,
- Torn carpet on stairs,
- Slippery substance on steps,
- Uneven stair surfaces,
- Missing or insufficient nosing,
- Blocked or cluttered stairways,
- Wear and tear over time,
- Defective parts, and
- Other poor construction.
Many building codes have specific requirements for stairs, including height, depth, and required railing. When stairs are in violation of building codes and cause an injury accident, the property owner may be “negligent per se,” or presumed negligent because they are in violation of a statute, ordinance or regulation.
You can show the defendant is negligent per se because of stairway violations when:
- The defendant violated a state or local statute, ordinance, or regulation;
- The violation caused your injury;
- The injury resulted from an act the statute, ordinance, or regulation was intended to prevent; and
- You were a member of a group the statute, ordinance, or regulation was intended to protect.10
Stairway injuries depend on a number of factors, including:
- Your age,
- Height of the stairs,
- Type of injury or fall, and
- Stairway surface.
Even a minor slip can result in falling down multiple steps. A fall off the side of unprotected stairs can also result in an injury from falling from a significant height. Common stair accident injuries include:
- Head injury,
- Back injury,
- Spine or neck injury,
- Broken bones,
- Scrapes and abrasions,
- Lacerations, and
- Facial trauma.
Even if the property owner has insurance to pay for your damages, the process to recover damages is rarely simple. The insurance company may deny your claim or try and delay the process as long as possible. The insurance company may also try and settle the claim for as little as possible.
Before you talk to the property owner’s insurance company, you should talk to an experienced personal injury attorney about your rights. Your lawyer will deal with the insurance company so they do not try and trick you into saying something they will later use against you to deny your claim.
Your attorney will also make sure that any settlement agreement will protect your interests and provide you with the best settlement possible to compensate you and your family for your losses. If your stair accident lawsuit goes to a California jury trial, your personal injury lawyer will make sure the jury hears your side of the story before deciding how much to award you in compensation.
Call us for help on your stair accident lawsuit…
For questions about broken stair accidents or defective stairway claims or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017) 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements.
- See, for example, California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”) See also Turner v. Mandalay Sports Entm’t, LLC, 124 Nev. 213, 180 P.3d 1172 (2008); Perez v. Las Vegas Med. Ctr., 107 Nev. 1, 4, 805 P.2d 589 (1991).
- Sprecher v. Adamson Companies (1981) 30 Cal.3d 358
- Soule v. GM Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 560 (“A manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable in tort if a defect in the manufacture or design of its product causes injury while the product is being used in a reasonably foreseeable way.”)
- California Civil Jury Instructions (“CACI”) 400.
- Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 962, 967 (“Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for his employee’s torts committed within the scope of the employment.”)
- See, for example, California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3701 — Tort Liability Asserted Against Principal–Essential Factual Elements. See also Lisa M. v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1995) 12 Cal.4th 291, 296–297 (“The rule of respondeat superior is familiar and simply stated: an employer is vicariously liable for the torts of its employees committed within the scope of the employment.“)
- California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 426 — Negligent Hiring, Supervision, or Retention of Employee. See also Doe v. Capital Cities (1996) 50 Cal.App.4th 1038, 1054.
- California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60.
- California Evidence Code 669; California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 418(a); Spriesterbach v. Holland (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 255.