What Is a Stairway or Stairwell Accident?

Accidents on stairs or in stairwells typically involve falling down the stairs. A loss of balance on a stairway is most likely to bring about a fall. There are many different reasons for falls. (1)

Most of the time when you fall down the stairs, the result is you get badly hurt. Serious injuries can require you going to the hospital and needing surgery. Or maybe even a loved one dying.

“Stairs are a common source of injury among individuals of all ages and the frequency and rate of stair-related injuries are increasing,” says researchers in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine (AJEM). (2)

Data analysis indicates “An estimated 24,760,843 patients were treated in emergency departments for a stair-related injury during the 23-year study period, averaging 1,076,558 patients annually, or 37.8 injuries per 10,000 United States residents.” (3)

The researchers continue, “the majority (67.2%) of emergency department visits for stair-related injuries was by individuals 11–60 years old,” even though young children and elderly people make up the highest rates of stair-related injuries. (4)

Causes of Stairway Accidents

There are many reasons you might suffer from a stairway accident. Common causes of stairway accidents include:

  • Defects in the stairs — Defective stairs are not ergonomically designed. They require maximum effort to use and are inefficient, says the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI). Defective stairs may have sharp corners, lack sufficient headroom, have an improper slope, or include risers of uneven height. (5)
  • Improper or inferior lighting — When “lighting is poor, shadows are numerous, or the corridor leading to the stairs is dark,” the stairs can be hazardous. (6) Visibility issues cause mishaps due to misjudgment of distances. (7)
  • Dangerous stair risers — Stair riser heights and tread depths must be “uniform” and risers must “Have a maximum riser height of 9.5 inches (24 cm),” says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). (8) New York State Building Standards and Codes sets residential stair riser heights at “not more than 8-1/4 inches” in 2017. (9)
  • Damaged or faulty steps — The “tread” is the part of the stairs your foot rests on as you climb or descend. (10) If the tread is cracked, worn, loose, uneven, or poorly supported it can pose a hazard. (11)
  • Defective railings or handrails — Cracked, broken, or wobbly handrails do not meet standards set by the New York. (12) Additionally, strict requirements exist for protective railings to be installed in stairways during construction. (13)
  • Leaving slick or slippery surfaces on the stairs — Waxed floors, or ice and snow, can cause steps to become slick. They can lead to trips, slips, and falls. (14) Stairs should be kept free of spills, wet spots, and debris at all times. (15)
  • Distractions — While using stairs, the behavior of others around you could result in your being knocked down and injured. They could fall if they are reading, talking on a cell phone, chatting with companions, carrying large items, or not holding onto handrails. If they do, they can knock into you, causing you to also fall. This is especially true if you are on public staircases or escalators, especially in subways.

“Far too many people are hurt and lives lost due to stairway falls,” says the founder of the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI). Underscoring his point, analysis of Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data indicate stair mishaps are part of a group (along with ramps and landings) resulting in 36,338 deaths each year. (16)

With respect to stairway accidents, one building safety consultant told Reuters Health, “The term ‘slips, trips and falls’ is a major misstatement of the full complexity of all possible missteps.” (17)

No matter the complexity, stair accidents result in many types of serious injuries.

Have you suffered an injury from a stairway accident? Contact us for a free case review.

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Types of Injuries in Stairway Accidents

Here are some of the serious injuries resulting from stairway accidents:

  • Spinal cord damage — This damage results from injury to the spine and “often causes permanent changes in strength, sensation and other body functions below the site of the injury,” says Mayo Clinic. (18) Severe injury can result in paralysis, either complete or partial. (19)
  • Injury to the brain and head — Concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are two of the most common brain and head injuries from falls. (20) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports there were 64,362 TBI-related deaths in 2020. (21)
  • Injuries to the back or neck — Falls are a common cause of both back and neck injury. Herniated disks and fractured vertebrae are among the possible results of falls. (22)
  • Broken bones/fractures — Bone fractures are frequently caused by trauma such as falls. (23) Surgery may be required to repair some fractures. Braces, slings, splints, and casts are also used in treatment.
  • Internal bleeding — Bleeding is defined as “the loss of blood.” Internal bleeding is “when blood leaks from blood vessels or organs,” states the National Library of Medicine. (24) Even when invisible to the naked eye, severe bleeding from the abdomen, neck, chest, groin, or pelvis can result in shock or death. In shock, the body is deprived of oxygen; 1 in 5 people who go into shock die. (25)
  • Lower extremity injuries — These include dislocations or organ damage. Injuries of this type can result in amputations and arterial damage. One study found, “The popliteal artery…is uniquely susceptible to injury with blunt extremity trauma.” The study went on to say the risk of limb loss was high, and amputation rates were around 49%. (26)
  • Deep lacerations — Lacerations are cuts. Deep lacerations are “bleeding wounds with jagged edges” where fat or muscle tissue is exposed. “General anesthesia may be needed for severe lacerations,” says University of Virginia Health. Complications of deep lacerations include tetanus, infection, bleeding, scarring, poor wound closure, and allergic reaction to anesthesia. (27)
  • Sprains and strains — Known as soft-tissue injuries, sprains and strains can take a long time to heal. “Acute” injuries result from sudden trauma and can vary in severity. “A sprain is a stretch and/or tear of a ligament,” the connective tissue linking bone to bone. “Ligaments stabilize and support the body’s joints.” Separately, “A strain is an injury to a muscle and/or tendon. Tendons are fibrous cords of tissue that attach muscles to bone.” (28)

These injuries are painful, expensive to treat, can require long recovery times, and are often preventable.

Stairway Safety and Prevention

Stairway accidents are widespread. Federal, state, and local governments have put in place laws, regulations, and standards to help protect the public.

At the federal level, general requirements for all stairways in the workplace, are defined by the OSHA Standard Part 1910.25. There are only a few exceptions to this. (29)

OSHA standards require handrails and guardrails, or both, to be provided on all stairways. Vertical clearance (headroom) must be at least 6 feet 8 inches. Stairs must have “uniform riser heights and tread depths between landings.” (30)

Additionally, stairway landings and platforms must be “at least the width of the stair and at least 30 inches (76 cm) in depth, as measured in the direction of travel.” (31)

Each stair must “support at least five times the normal anticipated live load, but never less than a concentrated load of 1,000 pounds (454 kg) applied at any point.” (32)

New York Stairs

New York regulations and general requirements dictate “During the construction of any reinforced concrete building or other structure, at least one stairway shall be installed which shall extend to a level not more than four floors or 60 feet, whichever is less, below the uppermost working floor or level.” (33)

New York’s standards and codes go on to establish residential riser heights at “not more than 8-1/4 inches” and tread depths cannot be “less than 9 inches.” (34)

Also, “Any temporary stairway shall not have a vertical rise of more than 12 feet between landings or floors.” (35)

If you or a loved one have suffered an injury from a stairway accident, contact us to understand your legal rights.

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Filing a Stairway Accident Lawsuit

If you have been hurt in a stairway accident, you need an experienced attorney. A personal injury attorney can help you determine if there has been any violation of these standards, codes, and regulations in your case.

After investigating your claims, your attorney files a lawsuit on your behalf. In your lawsuit, you are the plaintiff while the company you are suing is the defendant.

Your attorney files your lawsuit with the clerk of the court. The clerk then issues a summons and complaint to be served on the defendant. (36)

In New York, you must file your lawsuit in the county where either party lives. If no party lives in the city, the lawsuit may be filed in the county where either party works or does business. (37)

After the summons and complaint have been served, the defendant has approximately 20 days to respond. Once the defendant answers the summons and complaint, a court date is set. (38)

Establishing Negligence

To win your personal injury case in court, you must establish negligence. Negligence is a legal concept. A case of negligence shows the defendant did not behave with the “level of care” someone of “ordinary prudence” would have under similar circumstances. (39)

Negligence cases are often detailed and complex. Experience in representing clients in these types of cases can prove invaluable to the outcome of your case. For the best possible outcome in your case, you need an experienced negligence attorney.

How W&L Can Help

Weitz & Luxenberg’s personal injury team is experienced with negligence cases in New York. Our attorneys have been helping clients hold those who harmed them accountable for close to 40 years.

Here are a few of the cases we have handled: