Falling down a flight of stairs can be a terrifying experience. One minute you’re walking normally down a flight of stairs in your apartment building or your office, and the next you trip on a broken stair and lose your balance. You grab for the railing or anything you can find to steady yourself, but you end up tumbling forward. As you fall, it seems like every part of you catches the hard edges of the stairs — your arms, ribs, knees, back, and head. When you finally stop falling, everything hurts.
You end up hospitalized with fractured ribs, a concussion, and a painful slipped disc in your back that’s going to require surgery. You’re looking at weeks off from work while you recover, and you don’t have enough sick time or vacation time to cover that. You have no idea how you’re going to pay your day-to-day bills, much less the medical bills from your accident.
You learn after your accident that the building owner had known for weeks that the stair you tripped on was broken and blew off hiring someone to make repairs. The owner also didn’t bother to close the stairwell or put up a sign warning people about the broken stair. If he had, you might have been spared some painful and lingering injuries.
When you’re injured on someone else’s premises because of the negligence of the property owner or occupier, Illinois law says that you may have a premises liability claim. Negligence regarding stairways can take several forms:
- Missing or broken handrails
- Missing or broken steps
- Inadequate lighting
- Presence of obstructions
- Slippery surfaces
If you’re successful in your claim for your stairway injury, you may be able to recover payment of your medical costs, lost wages, disability and disfigurement, pain and suffering, and loss of normal life.
Duty of Property Owners
The Premises Liability Act, 740 ILCS 130, says that property owners or occupiers have a duty to visitors, known in the law as invitees, to maintain the property so that it’s reasonably safe. Generally, owners or occupiers are required to either fix a problem that they know about or warn visitors about the danger so that they can avoid it or take precautions.
When a property owner or occupier knows about a problem such as a broken step or a broken light in a stairwell that an average person could predict might lead to someone getting injured, the owner or occupier may be liable for injuries that occur as a result of the defect.
There are some exceptions when the property owner or occupier won’t typically be liable. Using the example of the broken step, those would include circumstances when:
- You knew about the broken step before you fell and got hurt and didn’t take reasonable care for your own safety
- The broken step was an open and obvious danger, or in other words an average person would have expected you to see it and try to avoid it
- The building owner didn’t know about the broken step and therefore didn’t have an opportunity to fix it before you fell, and an average person wouldn’t have expected the owner to know about the broken step
- You broke the step by misusing the premises, so your own improper actions basically caused your injury
These exceptions aren’t ironclad. Sometimes there will be additional circumstances that work in your favor, such as when you couldn’t see the broken step that otherwise might have been considered an open and obvious danger because the light was burnt out and no one had replaced it, so it was too dark in the stairwell to see the hazard.
How a Lawyer Can Help
Premises liability cases can be complex, and it may come down to seemingly small details to determine whether the property owner is responsible for your injuries. You may need an independent investigation or expert testimony to help support your claim. A Chicago premises liability lawyer with experience handling stairway accident cases will know what evidence and testimony you’ll need and how to go about finding it. Once the evidence is compiled, your lawyer can use that to negotiate a fair settlement of your claim. If no settlement is possible, your lawyer can file a lawsuit and take your case to court.