Visitor Question

Brain Injury from Falling Down Steps with No Railing…

Submitted By: Anonymous (Iowa)

My fiance and I rented a house in 2009-2010. In March of 2010 my fiance was injured while going downstairs to the basement. The stairs had no railing and he fell off of the side and hit his head on the concrete so hard that he had a severe hematoma. It required immediate emergency brain surgery to eliminate the bleeding and swelling.

The doctor told us that he should have already been dead before he had surgery, due to the amount of blood surrounding his brain. He will forever have the scar and the titanium plate he had put in to replace the part of his skull that had to be removed.

We never asked to have a railing put on prior to this incident, but I’ve been told over and over again that we shouldn’t have had to ask, that it’s required by law and is the landlord’s responsibility.

Is there anything that can be done?

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.


Dear Anonymous,

Depending on when the house was built the requirement of a staircase railing may be “grandfathered” in. Some residences built before the 2009 building code amendments are not required to have stair railings. Today’s Iowa Building Code does require handrails.

The Building Code for the State of Iowa now requires handrails to be installed in residences, but depending on when the home was built, where the staircase is to be built, and the number of steps, or “tiers,” the Code may not be applicable in your friend’s case.

We suggest you look at Iowa’s Building and Dwelling Code IBC 2009 and IRC 2009.

Quoting the Code, “Handrails are required on all stairways having 4 or more risers. Handrails may not be less than 1 1/4 inches nor more than 2 inches in cross sectional area (diameter). Handrails must be installed not less than 34 inches nor more than 38 inches above the nosing (front edge) of treads.”

You can also call the State Building Code Bureau at (515) 725-6145.

If, after checking the Building Code you are sure the homeowner should have had a hand railing in the home, then go to the next step.

Check with the Building Code Department and see if the homeowner had previously been cited for not having a handrailing in your residence. It’s not probable, but you’d be remiss if you did not check.

If your research finds the homeowner was negligent in failing to have installed a hand railing by Code, then you may have grounds to pursue a claim against her; a claim for the costs of your friend’s medical treatment, out of pocket expenses, lost wages, and most importantly, the pain and suffering he has endured, and will probably endure into the future.

Learn more here: Building Code Violations

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,


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