Stair Accident Injury Claims: How to Get Financial Compensation

Stair and escalator injuries happen daily because of property owners’ negligence. Learn how to get the compensation you deserve for trips and falls on dangerous stairs.

Stair accidents are responsible for more than one million emergency room visits every year.¹

People of all ages are injured falling from stairs. However, women, children, and older adults tend to sustain more serious injuries.

Stair accidents caused by negligence happen every day. When you or a loved are seriously injured, knowing what to do, and the mistakes to avoid will help you get the compensation you deserve for injuries, lost wages, and emotional distress.

Common Causes of Stair Accidents

Stairway and stairwell problems are a common cause of serious, sometimes fatal, injuries. Dangerous conditions leading to falls on stairs include:

Slippery surfaces on stairs include slick tiles, highly polished or waxed wood, and worn carpeting. Shiny, slippery surfaces may be attractive, but trading appearance for safety can make the property owner responsible for injuries.

Icy or snowy steps and even water puddles on steps and landings can cause serious slip and fall accidents. Owners are obligated to clear ice and snow, repair drainage problems, and provide non-slip surfaces, especially in public areas.

Poor lighting in stairways and stairwells can make it difficult to see the beginning and end of the stairway, obstructions, and potential hazards like ice or wet leaves.

Handrails that are loose, the wrong height, or missing can cause stair accidents indoors and out. Some properties, like rental homes, have building code requirements for safe stair railings.

Stair height and depth may also be subject to local buildings codes. Stairs that are too high or low, or very shallow are difficult to navigate safely.

Uneven steps and stairs are significant fall hazards, whether caused by warped wood or poor design. Uneven steps, even the last step down, can throw a person off balance and are often a clear building code violation.

Slips, trips and falls on dangerous stairs often cause significant injuries, including:

  • Cuts, scrapes, and bruises
  • Sprained tendons, ligaments, and muscles
  • Fractured bones, usually hands, wrists, arms, and hips
  • Whiplash, neck and back injuries
  • Head injuries, concussions and other traumatic brain injuries

Escalator Accidents and Injuries

Escalators are an easy way to move between floors in shopping malls, casinos, airports, and just about any other public place with a high volume of foot traffic.

About 10,000 people are injured on escalators each year. The majority of escalator injuries occur from falls, often from jostling by other riders, elderly riders with balance problems, and intoxicated riders.

Falls and entrapment can be caused by mechanical malfunction and defects, such as:

  • Missing teeth on the escalator track
  • Broken or missing steps
  • Inappropriate gaps between the moving steps and escalator sides
  • Missing or loose screws

Escalator injuries caused by negligence are the responsibility of the building owner or management company.

Who is Liable for Dangerous Stairs?

All property owners, including businesses and homeowners, have a legal duty of care (obligation) to keep their property safe and hazard-free for visitors. This duty means property owners must do everything reasonably possible to make sure all stairs and escalators on their premises are safe.

Property owners who breached their duty of care by failing to maintain safe stairs are negligent. When negligence caused someone to be injured, the property owner is liable, meaning responsible for the injured person’s damages.

When you’ve been injured on stairs or escalators, you can seek compensation caused by negligent homeowners, business owners, and government agencies.

Personal injury damages can include:

A property owner is legally liable for your injuries when:

  1. The owner was aware or should have been aware of the danger to visitors
  2. A reasonable person would know the dangerous condition could cause an accident
  3. The owner neglected to take reasonable steps to fix the dangerous condition
  4. The building owner’s negligence was the direct cause of injuries
  5. The victim’s injuries are verifiable

Example: Improper Escalator Maintenance

Sharon loved shopping at her local mega-mall and was on her way to the lower level to meet a friend for lunch when a terrible accident happened.

The biggest shopping mall in town had a beautiful central court with escalators to carry customers between floors.

The mall escalator came with strict operation and maintenance instructions provided by the manufacturer, including the requirement to oil the gears once every thousand hours of use. The instructions warned that failure to follow the oil schedule could damage the escalator mechanism, causing it to stop suddenly.

Mall management decided to save time and money by postponing the regular escalator maintenance schedule until after 2,000 running hours. At about 1,600 hours of use, the escalator jolted to a halt.

Sharon was on that escalator. The abrupt stop threw her forward, crashing down the escalator steps. Sharon was rushed to the hospital with a severe concussion, a broken collar bone, and multiple scrapes and bruises.

The shopping mall owner was negligent for failing to abide by the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions. The owner knew or should have known that the escalator could malfunction and hurt someone. The shopping mall owner is therefore liable for Sharon’s damages.

Does the Insurance Company Blame You?

Accidents on faulty stairs can happen to anyone, and the results can be catastrophic to the injured person and their family. Serious injuries are costly, and insurance companies don’t like to pay costly claims.

The property owner’s insurance company has an army of specialists looking for a reason to blame you for falling down the stairs. They’ll jump at any excuse to deny your injury claim.

It’s important to know that in most states you’re eligible for compensation even when you share blame for a stairwell or escalator accident.

Contributory Negligence only applies to personal injury claims in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Under pure contributory negligence rules, your claim can be denied if you share any blame at all.

Comparative Negligence or modified comparative negligence rules are used in most states.

Under pure comparative negligence rules, you have the right to pursue an injury claim even if you’re 99 percent at fault for your injuries. Your final compensation will be reduced in proportion to your share of the blame.

In modified comparative negligence states, your injury claim can be denied when you are equally to blame or more to blame for the circumstances leading up to your injuries.

Don’t let the insurance company have the last word. If you’ve been blamed for a stair accident, talk to a personal injury attorney about your injury claim.   

How to Build a Strong Injury Claim

It may seem obvious to you that the property owner is to blame for your fall down the stairs, but the insurance company won’t take your word for it.

Proving a property owner was negligent requires believable evidence. Collecting valuable evidence starts at the scene of your stair accident.

Photographic and video documentation: Photographs and video footage are convincing evidence. It’s hard to argue with a picture clearly showing a broken step, torn carpeting, or missing stair banister.

If you’re hurt in a stairs accident, grab your smartphone. Enable the date and time stamp function, and take as many pictures as you can. Identify the dangerous condition and document it in relation to the surrounding premises.

Example: Collecting Photographic Evidence

Jenny was in a professional building. After her dental appointment, she took the staircase instead of the elevator. Jenny held onto the wooden banister while walking down the four flights.

As her hand slid along the banister, a screw sticking out of the banister gashed Jenny’s palm. Jenny recoiled from the pain, fell forward and tumbled down the concrete steps, suffering a broken arm and multiple bruises and scrapes.

Harold was walking down the stairs a few steps behind Jenny. He saw Jenny fall and quickly came to her assistance. Harold helped Jenny to sit up. As he did, he noticed a large lump on Jenny’s head and cuts and scrapes on her bloodied hands.

After Harold dialed 911, Jenny asked him to use her phone to photograph and video the stairwell and stair banister.

Harold took close-up pictures of the bloody screw and banister. For perspective, Harold held a quarter next to the screw and took a picture. Harold used the video to pan up and down the stairwell. Finally, he took footage of the area where Jenny fell and of her injuries.

Witness statements:  In Jenny’s case, there are two witnesses. One is Harold and the other her dentist. Harold and the dentist can both provide valuable independent witness statements.  Since independent witnesses have no personal or financial interest in Jenny’s claim, the insurance company will give more weight to their version of what happened.

Jenny asked Harold to write down exactly what he saw, including her pain and distress she lay on the cold cement floor, and to sign and date his statement. She asked him to mention that they never met before her injury in the stairwell.

Jenny asked her dentist to write a letter confirming the date and time of her appointment, and to verify that she had not received any medications or anesthesia that would cause her to be unsteady on stairs.

The dentist’s statement verified Jenny was in the building on the injury date, and that there were no contributing factors that could have caused her to fall down the stairs.

Incident reports: An incident report is a form completed by property owners or managers that details the circumstances of an injury.

For Jenny, it’s important she contacts the professional building’s management office as soon as possible after the accident to report her injury. They will have someone complete an incident report that will serve as another link in the chain of evidence. The office will send the report to their insurance company.

Admissions against interest: An admission against interest is a comment made by the property owner or an employee that helps show their negligence.

When Jenny called the office to report the incident, the receptionist said “Oh yes, we’ve had some complaints about that stair banister for over a week now. We’re waiting for the repair crew to fix it.” The receptionist admitted the problem, which is an admission against interest and strong evidence the property owner knew about the danger.

Medical records: Medical records and bills are a vital part of the evidence needed for a successful injury claim. Without proof of medical expenses, there is no injury claim. Medical bills and expenses are the major component to calculations for insurance settlements.

In Jenny’s case, her medical records will link her injuries directly to the fall in the stairwell. By including her dental records for that day, she can also prove that if not for the faulty banister, she would not have fallen down the stairs.

Never refuse or delay medical treatment after an escalator or stair accident. It’s embarrassing to find yourself in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, but don’t give in to the urge to dust yourself off and get out of there.

Shock and emotional distress can mask symptoms. You may be critically injured and not realize it. Brain injuries and internal bleeding may not show clear symptoms for hours.

You must notify someone at the accident scene, preferably the building owner or manager. Let them know you’re hurt. If you don’t go straight to the hospital from the scene, you must have a same-day medical evaluation by your doctor. If your primary care provider isn’t available, go the nearest emergency room or urgent care center.

Be sure to tell every medical professional who examines you exactly when, where, and how you were injured. You want their medical notes and your treatment records to clearly link your injuries to the accident.

Delaying medical treatment will undermine your insurance claim. The adjuster won’t hesitate to deny your claim, arguing that your injuries didn’t happen on their insured’s premises.

Get Fair Financial Compensation

If you’ve been injured on stairs or an escalator due to someone else’s negligence and want financial compensation, you’ll need to decide whether to handle the claim yourself or hire an attorney.

If you’ve recovered from minor injuries like bruises, sprains, or small cuts and scrapes, you can probably negotiate a settlement directly with the insurance company.

Calculate a fair settlement amount by adding up your medical bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and lost wages. Then, add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.

Send a written compensation demand with copies of your bills, your lost wage statement, and other evidence to support your claim.

Look like a pro with our sample Slip and Fall Injury Demand Letter.

If you’ve suffered severe “hard” injuries or your claim is complicated, you’ll need a skilled personal injury attorney to get anywhere near a fair amount of compensation.

“Hard” injuries, like dismemberment, fractured hips, brain damage, or permanent scarring are complicated, high-dollar claims. Insurance companies are notorious for offering low-ball settlements to claimants who don’t have an attorney.

They know when they make their “final offer” you probably won’t have the energy or legal know-how to fight for more money.

Complicated claims can include:

  • A homeowner who won’t disclose insurance information
  • Accusations of shared blame
  • Child injuries
  • Product liability claims, such as for defective escalators
  • Multi-party lawsuits, for example, when the building owner and the escalator manufacturer are both negligent
  • Wrongful death claims
  • Government injury claims

There’s just too much at stake to try handling high-dollar or complicated clams on your own.

There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what an experienced personal injury attorney can do for you.

Stair Accident Claim Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>