Going up or climbing down a few steps or even a flight of stairs is a fairly commonplace activity and one that is a part of everyday life for many people. According to studies, the average American climbs up to 3.5 million stairs in his or her lifetime. We encounter stairways at homes, apartment complexes, offices, restaurants, bars, stores, schools, etc. While we may not think twice about taking the stairs and the potential dangers involved, it is a fact that more than 1 million Americans are injured or killed as a result of stairway accidents. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to these types of accidents. Stairway accidents cost the United States about $12 billion a year in health care costs, lost wages and short- and long-term disability costs, according to various estimates.
Statistics also show that these types of accidents involving stairways are the second leading cause of injury in the United States, next only to car accidents. Even seemingly minor falls down the stairway can result in serious injuries such as traumatic brain injury, spinal cord trauma, bone fractures and other internal injuries. Injured victims of stairway accidents or families of deceased victims have legal rights. If you have been injured it is important that you contact an experienced New York City stairway accident attorney who will better explain your rights and options.
What Causes a Stairway Accident?
An accident involving a stairway can be the result of a collapse and/or dangerous stairway conditions, leading to a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accident. A number of these hazards are caused by lack of maintenance or poor maintenance on the part of property owners and/or managers. Here are a few examples of dangerous stairway conditions:
- Slippery stairs may lead to a serious injury slip-and-fall accident.
- Snow or ice accumulated on stairs can cause a slip-and-fall accident as well.
- Rotting wood in stairs can give way under a person’s weight and cause the individual to fall and suffer injuries.
- Poorly designed and constructed stairwells may collapse and cause catastrophic or even fatal injuries.
- Defective stairs that are broken or uneven pose a serious risk of a fall.
- Inadequate lighting can cause people to fall. Lack of sufficient lighting may also make it difficult for people to see defects or unevenness.
- Design defects such as staircases where the stairs are too shallow or too steep can cause a person to stumble and suffer injuries.
- Objects or debris left on stairs can cause serious trip-and-fall accidents.
- Stairs with carpeting that has holes or is bunched can present a tripping hazard.
- Broken railings can give way when an individual leans on them with a reasonable expectation that they will hold his or her weight.
- Missing handrails or lack of handrails cause people who have slipped, tripped or fallen to sustain serious personal injuries.
Injuries Caused by Stairway Accidents
Stairway accidents can result in significant trauma for victims. Although some accidents may only result in minor injuries, a majority of stairway accidents cause severe or fatal injuries. Even injuries that are perceived as “minor” can result in the need for significant medical and rehabilitative treatment. The victim may need to take several months to recover from the fall-related injuries. When a stairwell collapses, the injuries may prove fatal. For example, the individual may get crushed under the weight of falling debris. Here are some of the most common injuries that result from stairway accidents.
Muscle strains and sprains: When you try to “catch yourself” to avoid falling down the stairs, it may cause deep-muscle strains and sprains. Muscles that are strained or sprained can be treated with rest, heat and ice treatments and anti-inflammatory medications.
Herniated disc injuries: Sudden twisting or muscle strain from a fall down the stairs can cause a disc to rupture or slip out of place between the vertebrae. This puts pressure on the adjacent nerves leading to pain that can extend down the legs, accompanied at times by tingling or weakness. This may be treated with pain relievers, muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories and physical therapy. But it may also require surgery.
Broken bones: Depending on the way in which a person falls down the stairs, individuals may suffer significant fractures. Recovery from fractures often takes months. Victims need extensive rehabilitative treatments to try to regain their pre-accident strength, mobility and flexibility, if possible.
Compression fractures: Compression fractures are among the most common injuries suffered in stairway accidents. This is especially true for those 50 or older and those with weakened bones due to osteoporosis. Fractures can be treated with immobilization, medication and rest. However, if the compression of the vertebrae is severe, it can cause long-term issues that may require surgery. Anyone with long-term symptoms such as numbness, tingling, muscle spasms, weakness or incontinence may have to resort to surgery.
Tailbone injury: Falling backward on to a hard surface is the top cause of trauma to the tailbone. This may cause bruising of the small bone that is located at the lower tip of the spine. Tailbone injuries can cause significant pain. Treatment includes rest, icing the injured area and using devices that decrease pressure at the location, especially while sitting down.
Traumatic Brain Injuries: A brain injury can cause severe short- and long-term issues including memory loss, behavioral issues and failure to perform normal physical and mental tasks. Head injuries must be given immediate medical attention. Living with a brain injury can be significant challenge not just for the victim, but also his or her family members.
Determining Liability in Stairway Accident Cases
Who is responsible for a stairway accident depends on where, how and why the accident occurred. If you are injured in a place of business such as an office, store or mall, the property owner and/or manager as well as the business operator may be held liable. The business’s insurance company will likely handle your claim or pass the matter to the building owner’s insurance company. If the stairway accident occurs on a residential property, liability depends on the type of residence. If you are a tenant or a visitor at a rental property, the person in charge of maintaining the area can be held responsible. Usually, the landlord and/or the management is or are responsible for maintaining and fixing everything outside the apartment such as hallways, stairs, entrances, etc.
If the stairway accident occurs due to a dangerous or defective condition at a private residence, the homeowner is responsible. If the entire home is rented out, the tenant might also be responsible. Such incidents are usually covered through the homeowner’s liability insurance.
Sometimes, stairway accidents may occur on city or government property. In such cases the governmental agency in charge of maintaining the property may be held accountable. Since there are a number of different parties that can be held liable in stairway accident cases, it would be in victims’ best interests to seek the counsel of an experienced stairway accident lawyer in New York City right after the accident to determine the best course of action.
What to Do after a Stairway Accident?
There are several steps that victims of stairway accidents can take to ensure their legal rights and best interests are protected:
- First and foremost, when you slip or trip and fall down, do not try to get up right away. You may be injured. Call for help especially if you are experiencing symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, severe pain and inability to move.
- If you are able, take photos showing the depth or height and all dimensions on your cell phone of the dangerous condition that caused your fall. A broken step that caused you to trip and fall may be fixed the next day. This is why it is important to gather evidence from the scene as soon as possible.
- Make sure you file a complaint with the property owner or property manager giving a detailed account along with the time, date and location of the incident. Obtain a copy of this complaint, before giving a copy to the responsible party.
- Obtain prompt medical attention. Even if you feel you have not been seriously injured seek out medical attention right away. Go to the emergency room. Follow the doctor’s orders and follow through on your care plan.
- Preserve evidence such as torn clothing, broken items or oil or any substance that is on your clothes. These are important pieces of evidence.
- Obtain contact information (name, address, phone number and e-mail address) for anyone who may have witnessed your stairway accident. Eyewitness testimony can be crucial and will help your case.
- Document all your losses. Keep your medical bills and all invoices. Maintain a journal describing the daily struggles you face due to your injuries.
- Right after the accident contact an experienced New York City premises liability lawyer who can help you assess the damages and protect your rights. Get an injury lawyer on your side sooner rather than later.
What is Your Stairway Accident Claim Worth?
If you have been injured in a stairway accident, you may be wondering about the extent of damages to which you are entitled. How much is your claim worth? Each case is unique and the limit of your damages depends on the nature of your injuries and losses, and the liability of the responsible party or parties. Here are some of the damages stairway accident victims are able to claim from liable parties:
- Medical expenses: All medical treatment costs, past and future, related to your accident should be included in the claim. The least you will be entitled to in a premises liability claim is your medical expenses. These include hospitalization costs, cost of medication, medical equipment (braces, crutches), surgeries, etc.
- Rehabilitation costs: Rehabilitation is often a big part of the recovery process for stairway accident victims. This may include physical therapy or rehabilitative treatments such as chiropractic care. These types of expenses often add up quickly and are often not covered by insurance.
- Past and future pain and suffering: This is part of what is known as non-economic damages. Your medical bills are typically used as a starting point in calculating the amount for past and future pain and suffering. The value will depend on the severity and permanency of your injuries and whether you have suffered long-term or lifelong disabilities. For example, if you fell down a flight of stairs, broke your leg and will walk with a limp for the rest of your life, then the value of your pain and suffering and permanent injury will be much higher. However, it is best not to assume what you may or may not get. An experienced injury lawyer will be able to give you a much more accurate idea. The cases are often worth far more than you would imagine.
- Lost wages: If you missed work because of your injuries, you can recover the value of the wages and benefits that you would have earned. You will need to provide proof of your earnings with a pay stub or tax return. Your employer may also have to verify in writing with regard to the time and benefits that you missed as a result of your injury and your salary or hourly wages.
- Loss of earning capacity: If you suffered catastrophic injuries that prevent you from carrying out the type of work you performed before your injury, you may be able to recover an amount to compensate you for your “lost earning capacity.” You may also claim a loss of livelihood, if you are completely unable to work due to your injury. In such cases, experts will need to evaluate your injuries and offer testimony to support your claim. Your personal injury attorney can provide the correct experts such as vocational, rehabilitation and economic experts, etc., if they are needed.
- Wrongful death: If you have lost a loved one in a stairway accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim seeking compensation for damages including, but not limited to, lost future income, medical and funeral costs, pain and suffering, etc. Again, your personal injury attorney can provide the required experts.
Compensation for Injured Victims
If you or a loved one has been injured in a stairway accident, please contact the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm who can help you better understand your legal rights and options. Our law firm has recovered millions of dollars for victims of stairway accidents.
Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury cases in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case.
Other TOLL FREE phone numbers for us are:
1-800-RADIO-LAW, 1-888-WYPADEK, OR 1-800-LAS-LEYES
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