In the front hall of the home – the carpentry crew collected the supplies they needed for completing the project in the basement. The workmen left a stepladder, tool bags, and extension cords at the top of the stairs while they took a load of materials to the lower level. Before they returned, the homeowner’s cleaning lady entered the home through the front door as she always does. When entering the foyer and approaching the stairs, she was careful to avoid the ladder and power tools. What she did not notice was the black plastic garbage bag that was draped over the edge of the step!
Whether in the home or in a public place, falling down even a couple of steps is can be extremely serious. The statistics show that 35% of brain injuries are caused by a fall. In Ontario, slip and falls accidents account for more brain injuries than motor vehicle accidents. Stairway related injuries can rage from bruises and breaks to traumatic brain injury. Every accident situation is unique and injuries can be varied and compoundable on pre-existing conditions or vulnerabilities (thin skull doctrine). The age of the injured, the location of the stairs, falling up the stairs or falling down the stairs. Injuries associated with stairway accidents can cover the complete spectrum. That said, typical stairway injuries often include:
- Cuts and bruises
- Orthopedic injuries
- Hip and wrist, ankle fractures
- Brain injuries including concussion
- Injuries requiring surgical procedure
- Spinal cord injuries
Stairway Accident Cause and Commonality
The causes of stairway injury can also range from obstructions and poor traction to faulty construction and maintenance. The root causes however are usually the same. Negligence and breach of care. Whether it be a missing hand rail, a persistent drip from the eaves-trough freezing on the front step or a workman failing to display do not enter signage. The common thread is all too often careless disregard and concern for the safety of others.
- Leaked water on stairs
- Runners that are ripped or lifted causing a trip or catching a heel
- Broken tiles
- Chipped concrete
- Ice, oil, grease, wet slippery surfaces
- Poor lighting
- Poorly marked or unmarked elevation changes
- Tools,Wires and cords
- Plastic (in the above scenario the green garbage bag on the step was like a sled on ice)
- Improper clean up by maintenance or repair staff- there should be warning signs for hazards such as wet floors, areas under construction or other potential dangers
- Broken or unsteady railing
- Poor design, or stairs and railings, which do not meet building code standards
- Water pooling/freezing
Responsibility and accountability
A fall can happen anywhere. In our homes, it is up to us to make our halls and stairways safe for others and ourselves. In a place open to the public, such as a shopping mall, or office building the occupier has a legal duty of care to keep the premises safe. This legal responsibility is covered under the Ontario Occupier’s Liability Act.” (The term occupier includes anyone who has ownership, occupation, possession, or control of a property.) In order to fulfill his responsibility regarding stairways, the owner or “occupier” would be expected to carry out the following:
- Make sure the property, steps, halls and railings can be used safely
- Be sure the stairs, railings, hallways are kept in good repair and regularly checked for safety
- Arrange to have regular maintenance and cleaning procedures in place
- Maintenance, construction or cleaning situations which present possible danger must provide a warning sign. This includes wet floors after cleaning or areas where ladders, electrical cords and power tools are in use. It may require fencing off the area, to prevent others entering, for the necessary period of time.
- Foresee any reasonable chance of danger and take necessary steps to avoid it. This might include adding a strip of bright coloured paint to a step or elevation change, where trip accidents had been previously reported.
Who is legally responsible for compensation?
Serious injuries require a long time to heal. There may be ongoing pain, loss of physical or cognitive ability, changes in emotions, memory, relationships and necessary surgeries or therapy. Compounding complications can arise leading to unforeseeable outcomes. It can be physically, emotionally and financially costly. By law, the building owner or occupier could be liable for damages if he was negligent in carrying out any above duties and someone was injured as a result. Compensation is often pursued through the occupier’s liability insurance. In certain circumstances further personal injury action may be taken against the insurer of an involved third party .
In some premise liability cases injured persons are hesitant to take legal injury action when the location of the stairway hazard was owned by a friend or acquaintance. In most circumstances home and property owners are required to obtain; and have purchased liability insurance coverage for events just like these. Taking responsibility and taking ownership is a quality most friends aspire to. Many, honorable property owners hold true to the belief that the well being of the innocently injured is paramount. The financial burden belongs with the insurer and not with you and your families.
If you intend to file a claim for damages there is a specific time limit to when you must make your intention known to the insurer. If you experienced a slip or trip and fall on city or municipal property, the time limit allowed is only 10 days. Injuries occurring on city or municipal property are under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Municipal Act. This is different than for slip and fall situations occurring on private or public premises which are dealt with under different laws. In these cases there is usually a 2 year time limit. An experienced personal injury lawyer will be familiar with the specific statutes, doctrines, laws and deadlines regarding your particular situation and the legal documentation required.
As time passes, so does the shadow of doubt. Your injuries may worsen or become more complicated and medical proof becomes subjective, the stairway hazards may be removed or repaired, witnesses memories may fade and supporting documentation becomes more difficult.
Some accidents are the fault of the injured person. In some cases there is partial or contributory fault on numerous parties involved.
As in the scenario above, who is at fault?
- The owner of the home where the accident happened, who hired the workman and knew the cleaning ladies schedule?
- The construction company who breached a duty of care to rope off hazards, post caution signs and remove obvious workplace hazards?
- The Cleaning Lady – Who through assumption of risk knowingly proceeded around tools and clutter to the stairway?
Like in the stairway accident scenario mentioned above, the obstacles to injury compensation may not be obvious. Time limits, insurance company defense tactics, case law, documentation,statutes and legal doctrines can all present obstacles to the injured and to the inexperienced lawyer.
If you have been injured due to a trip, slip or fall accident, it is important to be prepared and take steps to protect yourself. If you intend to take legal action and make a claim for damages, you will need to be able to prove fault against the occupier. At the accident site, take photos and details of the situation as well as contact information for witness. Get medical care as soon as possible. Document all details of the accident, medical visits, and conversations regarding the accident. Limit your conversations regarding the accident.
Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Its our job to outline crucial information regarding deadlines, legal documentation, proving fault and insurance company communications.
The Kahler Personal Injury Law Firm has forged a reputation for representing clients in Toronto and throughout Ontario with unparallelled dedication, knowledge,commitment and financial outcomes. If you have been injured in a stairway slip and fall accident, you may be eligible for compensatory damages. If you have sustained injuries caused by the negligent actions or inaction of someone else; we will clear the path to financial compensation.
Kahler personal injury lawyers will extensively document your case, substantiate injuries with medical proof, accumulate expert reports, and bring a level of credibility, experience and persistence that can prevail against any insurance company. Our lawyers build strong, rock solid cases that often settle before trial. When litigation is necessary, our lawyers are powerful and effective communicators and defenders. Seemingly small details, can make the difference between obtaining or losing your needed benefits.