Defects in Stairways & Steps

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July 29, 2009

Slip and fall injuries on stairways and steps may be caused by the presence of slippery foreign substances, or debris, or due to inadequate lighting, or negligent maintenance, or design of the stairway itself. Typical among the latter category are injuries caused by improper step riser heights or tread widths, the absence of hand-railings, and protective anti-skid strips. Improper stairway design may also be responsible for injuries caused by stairways which are too steep or which have doors that open directly into unguarded stairways.

Slip and fall cases involving injuries on stairways and steps frequently assert violations of various building codes and ordinances pertaining to the proper construction and design of such areas. Illustrative of such a provision is the following regulation:

All stairways and steps required as exits by this code shall have a uniform rise of not more than 1 ¾ inches and a uniform tread of not less than 9 ½ inches, measuring from tread to tread, and from riser to riser. ... (c) The edges of all treads and the edges of all stairway landings shall be furnished with a non-slipping surface not less than 3 inches in width.[1]

Many state and municipal building codes contain similar provisions, although they are by no means uniform. Nevertheless, if otherwise applicable, these statutes and regulations are sometimes utilized to ease the plaintiff's traditional burden of proving negligence through the application of the doctrine of negligence per se.

A common hazard which is present on many types of commercial premises is a single step or step-down which leads from one portion of the premises to another. Often these sudden changes in the floor level are not obvious to entrants, either because of their location within the premises, their method of construction, or the coloration of the floor. Depending upon the individual circumstances, the occupant may be required to take special precautions relative to such potential hazards, or to at least provide some type of warning.

[1] 4 Wis. Admin. Code § Ind. 51.16(4).