Trips and falls on Staircases

In the 1916 short film, ‘One A.M.’ Charlie Chaplin drunkenly negotiates a carpeted staircase at one o’clock in the morning. Watching him trip and fall down the stairs several times during the two-minute clip is rather funny and attests to a master actor at the height of his powers.

Since then, several other films have tapped into the public’s weird love of seeing people fall down stairs, ‘Home Alone’, ‘Death Becomes Her’ and ‘The return of the Pink Panther’ all use the ‘stairway fall’ to good effect.

However, stairway falls are no joke. The reality is that they can be fatal.

Second biggest cause of accidental death

It is the second biggest cause of accidental death in the United States, killing an estimated 12 000 people a year. Only motor vehicle accidents take more lives in accidents, causing it to be widely regarded as a serious and costly global health concern.

Who is most susceptible to stairway falls?

The elderly

Americans over the age of 65 are much more prone to falling. Not necessarily because of age, but rather as a result of poor balance, impaired vision, low muscle strength and coordination problems.

It is also mostly the elderly who die from stairway falls.

Children fall

The second group at risk are children.

A study conducted in the US between 1999 and 2008 found that a child is rushed to the hospital every six minutes because of a fell down stairs. This amounts to approximately 100 000 children under the age of 5 treated in American hospitals per year.

This is a staggering figure when one considers there were only 20 million children of that age in the United States during this period, giving them a 1:200 chance of severe injury from stairway falls. It makes the first year of elementary school seem downright dangerous!

Middle-age adults

The third group of individuals at risk are middle-aged adults. They probably view stairs as a low-risk endeavor and are caught completely unawares when they do fall unexpectedly.

When you’re middle-aged, you are probably a busy mom or dad and you often have to carry loads or even children up and down stairs. In fact, a large percentage of children injured in stairwells were carried by adults.

Why do so many people fall on stairways?

The interaction of so many aspects

Unfortunately, if you were to fall on a stairway, the whole accident is made worse by the effect of gravity. It draws the falling person to lower ground, resulting in more injuries that a fall on a flat surface would have caused.

It is risky

Negotiating stairs also poses more risk than normal walking.

To walk up or down stairs involves the interaction of several factors: the person (his age, state of mind, his faults); the task (is he carrying something or not) and the environment (what type of stairs, were there something lying on the stairs, what is the weather like?)

In the end, the activity involves the interaction of several challenges. When just a single factor falls short it often has catastrophic consequences.

Stairway fall injuries

Only about 20% of all serious falls are causedby a trip and fall on a staircase. Injuriesfrom stairway falls, however, are appalling.

Traumatic brain injuries, fractured bones such as hip fractures and spinal cord injuries are the most common injuries following a serious stairwell incident.

Injuries to the elderly

In the elderly, stairway falls prove to be particularly devastating.

Approximately 30% of fractures lead to death in the elderly and in more than two-thirds of the falls, the person’s life will never be the same. Chances are very good that the elderly person will never be as mobile than he was before the incident.

What causes stairway injuries?

Falls on stairs are predominantly caused by trips and slips. There are several factors that can contribute to a stairway trip and fall accident.

  • Carpets itself can lay loose, causing someone to trip. Eroded treads in carpets are also a problem.

  • Clutter or toys on a stairwell can let an unsuspecting person stumble

  • On an unfamiliar staircase, a small, unusual step can make someone fall

  • The stairwell area can have bad lighting, causing someone to misjudge a step

  • Outdoor steps can be wet and slippery, have broken or uneven steps, be covered in ice or snow or have faulty handrails.

  • Wooden stairs can have rotting boards and cement steps, crumbling edges.

The possibilities are endless!

Who is liable in a stairway accident?

If there was negligence, the owner

If you or a loved one suffered a fall on a stairway and the accident occurred due to negligence on the part of the owners of the premises, you have a legitimate claim.

Property owners and their occupants have a responsibility to make sure that handrails and stairs on their premises are reasonably secure.

When they design, build and install stairs and handrails they have a legal obligation to make certain the work they do results in safe staircases that can be used by most people who are taking reasonable care.

Regular maintenance

The responsibility lies with the owners or occupiers of a building to ensure that the premises and the stairs are reasonably safe for use by maintaining them satisfactorily.

They are also required to warn guests about potential dangers. When they are aware of potentially hazardous handrails and stairs and fail to warn visitors or employees, they are legally responsible for accidents and their damages.


The following would qualify the owner as negligent:

  • The owner of the premises or their employees caused a spill, obstacle or dangerous underfoot condition on stairs.

  • The owner or employee knew of the dangerous condition and failed to take precautionary action timeously.

  • The owner of the premises or an employee should have known of the dangerous surface because a “reasonable” person taking care of the property would have discovered and removed or repaired it.

The fall has happened. What to do now?

When the incident occurred at a business office, in a department store, within a housing complex or at a private residence, you might be entitled to claim compensation.

What can I claim?

Medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering and other expenses incurred as a direct or indirect cause of the accident may be claimed from the owner or occupier of a building if they are proved to be negligent.

In most cases, a claim would be made against the liability insurance of the operator or owner. Keep in mind that the insurance company or defendant will deem whether your inattention contributed to the accident and attempt to prove it so.

What to do

It may be difficult, but try to keep your head clear just after the fall. Try and obtain as much information at the scene as possible. Take photos and obtain the contact details of witnesses.

Also, be sure to keep all paper records of the incident.

Contact us

The wise thing to do will be to contact a Philadelphia personal liability lawyer after a fall on a staircase. We will be able to assess the situation the best. We have experience and we can give advice on the laws pertaining to falls on stairwells in Pennsylvania.

Security footage

Most buildings and public spaces these days have security cameras. We will check for possible security video coverage of the incident. We know what questions to ask witnesses.

Inspection of stairwells

We will inspect the stairwell for design defects or maintenance lapses, by getting specialist inspectors to advise us. It is no job for a novice – in fact, you will find it very difficult to be able to identify defects in the design and assembly of stairwells.

Building code violations

Building codes regarding steps, stairwells, and handrails are also incredibly technical. We will be able to assess whether the codes have been violated, thus increasing your chances of a positive settlement.

In closing

Even the Hollywood guys are afraid of stairs

Some of the most experienced stuntmen in Hollywood refuse to do stunts involving falls on stairs. They argue that it is simply too dangerous.

One can conclude that falling down a stairwell is certainly not a laughing matter, even when it’s only an act. If you or a loved one has experienced such an incident, seek help from a personal liability lawyer. You won’t be sorry.