Common Staircase Injuries

Perhaps no area of injury law encompasses more incidents of preventable injuries than on stairways. Unsafe stairway conditions can led to disastrous consequences for the unsuspecting pedestrian or property visitor. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, stairways are used over two trillion times a year with over 260 million missteps resulting in 31 million minor accidents. There are 2,660,000 accidents on stairways which are considered disabling. Approximately 68% of the accidents are caused by some defect in the stairway or the conditions under which it is used.

It is because of this high accident rate that the building codes have established the tightest tolerances on the dimensions of stairways. Stairways must be wide enough for the pedestrian to safely and comfortably negotiate the stairs. There must be a properly placed handrail or sufficient height to provide a reasonable level of safety to the pedestrian. The stairway must be uniform in the dimensions of the rise and run of the steps.

Rise and Run

The uniformity of treads and risers of the stairway has been required, first by custom and practice, and then by code and statute, since the turn of the century. Earlier codes simply stated that the treads and risers be uniform in dimension. Subsequently, the maximum variation permitted by code was ¼ inch. Currently the maximum variation is 3/8 inch under the Building Code and 3/16 inch under the others.

The variation is between any two steps in any one flight of stairs. This means that according to the code, any variation in the height of the risers or the depth of the treads, in excess of 3/8 inch anywhere in the stairway would be in violation of this section. The variation in the height or width of the steps can cause a misstep, particularly during descent. The placement of the foot on the step is critical to balance. If the foot is too far forward on the step, the foot may slip over the edge resulting in a loss of balance and a fall. If the foot is placed too far back on the step, the heel may catch on the swing phase of the stride causing the upper body to vault forward.

The maximum permissible height varies within the various codes. Some codes limit the height of the riser to 7 ¼ inches and others up to 8 ¼ inches, but 6 ½ to 7 inches is the height most commonly encountered. The depth of the tread must be enough so that the foot can be firmly placed on the tread. The minimum tread depth can vary from 9 to 11 inches according to the code adopted by the local agency. Any tread of less than 10 inches presents some level of hazard to the descending pedestrians. In normal attitude of the foot while descending, the toe of the shoe extends past the nose of the step by about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inches. A man’s size 8 shoe is approximately 11 inches in length. This would require a step of about 10 inches depth for the foot to be firmly planted on the step during the stride. A step with less depth would cause the ball of the foot to be placed on the nose of the step. Under these conditions, when the weight is transferred to the ball of the foot during the stride, the foot would be likely to slip off the nose of the step.

The steepness of the stairway is determined by the height of the riser and the depth of the tread. A relatively low riser height combined with a deep tread results in a low angle stairway. Conversely, when the riser height approaches the maximum and the depth of the tread is at a minimum (i.e.; 8 ¼ inch riser and 9 ¼ inch tread) the angle of the stairway approaches 40°. Stairways of this angle are very steep, difficult to climb, and dangerous. Stairways of this type are usually encountered leading to unoccupied attics and roofs.

If your premises liability situation meets all the requirements above, our team at the Law Office of Steven R. Whitman can help.

In cases like these, we also urge you to photograph the scene of the accident and notify the local building department of the violation, so they can come to the property and confirm what happened. For legal help any step of the way, call us at (617) 227-8118 or contact us online.

We are ready to discuss your case during a free consultation.

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