If you enter onto someone else’s property or a business, you expect that the property owner has taken reasonable measures to keep the property safe for visitors. In some cases, however, a property owner may miss a faulty handrail or stair or ignore complaints, not realizing how serious the resulting injuries may be. A faulty handrail or a broken step may cause a fall, resulting in serious injuries like broken bones, a traumatic brain injury, a hurt back, and other problems. Travis G. Black is an experienced California premises liability attorney who may be able to help you if you suffer injuries as a result of faulty handrails and stairwells on someone else’s property.
Injuries Caused by Faulty Handrails and Stairwells
Stairs may be dangerous for many reasons, including faulty handrails, broken steps, spilled liquid, building code violations, uneven heights, weak materials, or rotting.
California accident victims need to show that the defendant had control over the property where they were hurt. They must also prove that the defendant was negligent in maintaining the handrail or stairwell, this negligence caused their injuries, and they suffered actual damages as a result. Generally, you will also need to show that the defendant knew or had reason to know of the defect in the property. However, the extent to which a property owner owes you a duty to maintain the property may be different depending on the circumstances of your visit.
The reason why you are on the property makes a difference to your case. For example, if a shopkeeper invites you into a shop for a mutual economic benefit, the duty that is owed is very high. A shopkeeper who does not have procedures in place to ensure that a stairwell is safe on a regular basis may be found negligent. Similarly, a shopkeeper who sees that a handrail is loose but procrastinates about fixing it may be held liable.
However, if you were soliciting information for a door-to-door survey and went up the stairs of a private residence, where the homeowner had posted a “no soliciting” sign and a “no trespassing” sign, and you slipped on an uneven step, you might have a more difficult time showing that the homeowner owed you a duty. Property owners are usually only considered negligent in these cases when they either created the danger or knew of a danger and knew about trespassers who might potentially be hurt by it. For example, if a homeowner was annoyed with solicitors and purposefully attached a broken handrail as a booby trap, and you were hurt as a result, you might have a basis to bring a premises liability claim.
It may be challenging to show that a property owner knew or should have known about a faulty handrail or stairwell. Often, you need to show that the defective condition was there for a long time, and the property owner had an opportunity to correct the defect but did not fix it. However, if the property owner made a problematic repair of a stairwell and created a faulty handrail that made the stairwell more dangerous, the property owner may be held liable even if they did not understand that they had created a hazard.
Sometimes property owners raise the defense that the defective condition that caused the injury was an open and obvious danger. For example, if there is a giant hole in the middle of the stairwell, through which someone could fall, this may be perceived as an open and obvious danger. However, there are instances in which this defense fails because the property owner is supposed to anticipate that the defective condition could harm a visitor in spite of being obvious. A visitor might reasonably be distracted in certain cases, or the visitor may need to encounter the danger because the advantages outweigh the danger. For example, if the only exit route is on the stairs with the gaping hole, and the visitor falls through a nearby plank while trying to avoid the hole, the landowner might be liable.