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A fall down a flight of stairs at best can be mildly embarrassing. At worst, it can result in serious injuries that will require a trip to the emergency room. If you have fallen down the stairs, you may wonder if it’s necessary to seek medical attention from a doctor. In short, you should get checked out to treat any injuries promptly.

Going to the doctor also helps establish a medical record, something you will need if you fall down the stairs because of someone else’s negligence. For example, you may have a slip and fall case if the stairs were not properly maintained by the property owner. 

If your fall down a flight of stairs was on someone else’s property, you will want to talk to a personal injury lawyer to see if you have a valid claim. The personal injury attorneys at Maho Prentice, LLP have successfully helped victims of slip and fall accidents in Southern California recover the compensation they deserve for their injuries. 

Our team of prominent lawyers has been serving the local area for over 20 years. We provide 50 years of combined experience in our representation of these types of personal injury cases. In this article, we discuss the importance of seeking medical treatment after a fall down the stairs and how you may be able to hold the property owner liable for your injuries.

What Could Cause Someone to Fall Down the Stairs?

If you live in an apartment building, are staying in a hotel, are at an office, or are at another type of property with stairs, it is always possible to fall down them. Some people are more prone to falling, such as the elderly population. Additionally, health conditions could play a role in a fall. 

However, anyone at any age can fall down a flight of stairs and suffer painful injuries. Sometimes, this could be due to not paying attention or sheer clumsiness. Other times, it likely wouldn’t have happened at all if the property owner upheld their duty of care to keep the premises safe and clear of dangers.

Stairwells are sometimes overlooked by owners when they are conducting inspections. In some cases, inspections aren’t conducted at all, making the property owner more likely to be held liable for your injuries. In California, stairwells may be neglected to the point where the handrails are missing, loose, or defective, a huge safety risk for anyone on the property. 

Here are the many ways a set of stairs could pose serious dangers to anyone using them and why a property owner could face a personal injury lawsuit for injuries:

  • Wet or slippery stairs, either indoors or outside
  • Dim lighting or missing lighting that makes it hard to see the stairs clearly
  • Uneven stair heights or stairs set at heights that violate building codes
  • Carpeted stairs that are frayed or the carpeting is loose, making it easier to trip, slip, and fall
  • Broken steps, particularly with steps made from wood that has been neglected and begun rotting
  • Defective stair risers
  • Obstructions on the stairs 
  • Collapsing stairways

When you fall down the stairs because of one of those problems, then it is important to go to the doctor. After you are treated for your injuries, you should discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer who has experience with premises liability cases.

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How Do I Know When a Fall Down the Stairs Requires Medical Attention?

If you fell down the stairs, whether or not you need to go to the doctor will depend on a few factors. The first thing you should do is remain calm and assess the situation. Some people may experience bruising without any other injuries after falling down stairs. Think about how you landed at the end of the fall. If you banged your ribs or other bones, it is worth going to the doctor to get X-rays and other imaging tests to check for fractures.

A cracked or broken rib could be especially problematic because it could puncture one of the organs underneath your rib cage, such as your lungs. You would then have a life-threatening emergency that needs to be treated immediately.

If you are unable to move one of your limbs, experience persistent pain, or you can’t bear weight on your legs when you stand, these are all signs that you have an injury that requires medical care. Additionally, if you hit your head at any point in the fall or fell from a great height, it is always best to see a doctor.

Problematic Symptoms After Falling Down a Flight of Stairs

This checklist can help you quickly assess the situation after you’ve fallen down the stairs. If you notice any of these symptoms in the moments following the accident or even a few hours after, do not delay getting the medical treatment you need. Symptoms that are cause for concern are:

  • Swelling and/or bruising
  • Pain
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Limited mobility or range of motion
  • Headaches that worsen

Each of these symptoms could indicate a serious injury, some that could worsen and leave permanent effects if ignored. 

Common Injuries Sustained from Falling Down Stairs

When you lose your balance on the stairs for any reason, whether due to lack of coordination or because you tripped on loose carpeting or the handrail gave way, it can result in painful injuries that may require a lengthy recovery time.

Here is a look at the most common injuries that occur from falling down the stairs:

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)

A traumatic brain injury can be on the milder side, such as a mild concussion that will heal soon after treatment. It can also be classified as moderate or severe, which may impact the rest of your life. TBIs tend to happen when someone hits their head, something that is very possible in a fall of this nature.

The brain can also experience this jolt even if you didn’t bang your head on your fall down the stairwell. Traumatic brain injuries vary widely, making it essential to have scans done to check for an injury to this vital organ. It could lead to brain damage that may make it impossible for you to go back to living your life the way you did before. It could also cause death when severe symptoms are ignored. 

Neck and Back Injuries

A major fall down the stairs can cause you to hurt your neck or back. The discs in your neck and back can become herniated, which could mean a lifetime of chronic pain.

Spinal Cord Injuries

When the spinal cord is impacted, it will depend on the nature of the injury as well as the location of the damage to the spinal column. You may have permanent nerve damage, or you may become paralyzed from the fall.

Sprains and Strains

A fall from a great height could result in sprains and strains of various muscles and tendons in your body. These will most likely heal with treatment, though they could mean that you must miss work to rest and recover, causing financial woes.

Broken Bones

Falling down the stairs often results in an awkward landing that could break any bone in your body. You may have a clean break that will heal well over the next 4 to 6 weeks, or you may have multiple fractures that are more complicated to treat. You might need to endure several surgeries to repair this damage, and it may still leave you with lasting pain.

Internal Injuries

When you fall down the stairs, you may be relieved if you can move your limbs and you don’t have any visible wounds. It’s still advisable that you see a doctor because of the potential for internal injuries. Many vital organs can get jostled around in a big fall, leading to internal bleeding. It’s one of the most dangerous situations as internal bleeding can be life-threatening.

Instead of rationalizing if you should go to the doctor, it’s best to go. You will breathe a huge sigh of relief if no injuries beyond superficial bruises are present. However, if you have serious injuries, you will be in capable hands that can help you get on the road to recovery.

When you are hurt from a fall down the stairs, you should speak to a personal injury attorney if you fell because something was faulty with the staircase. You may not be sure what happened but an attorney can investigate and hire experts to find the cause of your fall, allowing them to hold the liable party responsible for your damages. 

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How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Prove That the Property Owner Is Liable for My Fall Down the Stairs?

Every property owner has a duty of care they must uphold to those who are permitted on the premises. They must ensure all areas are free of hazards that could cause harm, and stairwells should be an important consideration. Stairs can be dangerous even when they are in excellent condition. If they are not built following California building codes or they were not maintained, the property owner could be held liable for the injuries a victim sustains in a fall.

California’s building codes dictate the width and depth of all stairways that are constructed. They must also use proper materials for stairway railings and be designed to hold a certain amount of weight, among many other detailed requirements.

While an owner of a property will have a duty of care to uphold, other things must be proven to hold them liable for your injuries from the stairwell accident. This often requires the legal representation of a personal injury lawyer because it is difficult to prove the different factors to establish negligence.

It must be shown that the property owner failed in upholding their duty of care by allowing an unsafe condition on the stairway. Your injuries need to be shown to have come from falling down the stairs and that you suffered damages as a result of the fall.

Personal injury attorneys will have greater resources to establish negligence in cases that involve a fall down the stairs. It may require digging through California building codes and county records to show that the stairs were not built to code. 

Even if the stairs were built following building codes, the owner may have neglected to maintain them. Property owners must always inspect their buildings for safety and when they find a hazard they need to take the steps to quickly make repairs. If repairs can’t be conducted immediately, they need to block off the stairs and place visible warnings of this danger.

Proving negligence can be hard to do on your own because the property owner will likely correct the damage quickly after your injury. Any person who falls down the stairs on an owner’s property should take photos and videos of the stairs to capture images of the hazard for this reason. 

The Relevance of Personal Injury Law Regarding Falls on Commercial Properties

If the fall occurred on a commercial property, the owner of that property has a big responsibility to keep it safe for all visitors. Grocery stores, shopping malls, offices, and restaurants could all have stairs. Some may have small sets of stairs at the entry while others may have stairwells inside. No matter how many stairs they have, they are likely a high-traffic area for the business and they need to be kept free of hazards.

California laws dictate that the property owner or management company appointed to oversee the property must be reasonable in their care. There are certain things that will be examined in these cases, including where the property is located, the level of control that an owner or management has over the hazard, the burden to repair or mitigate the risk of this hazard, the chances someone could become hurt on this part of the property, and the seriousness of injuries that could occur. 

The Biggest Challenges of Proving Liability in a Stairway Accident Case

Insurance companies will be the ones making a decision when you file a claim for your injuries in a stairwell. Much like auto insurance companies, they have a focus on their profits and bottom line, which means they will look for ways to either minimize the payout they make or deny the claim.

Slip and fall accidents on stairwells are much more complex than car accidents.

Insurance adjusters deploy many different tactics to reduce settlements or deny claims. 

California’s comparative negligence laws may lead to you having a reduced settlement when they try to blame you for your injuries. For example, they may claim you were texting when heading down the stairs, a distraction that caused you to fall and hurt yourself. 

When you consult a personal injury lawyer, you will have someone who knows these tactics and prepares for them in advance. They will investigate and present all relevant evidence to help you hold the liable parties accountable for your injuries and all other financial losses related to your fall down the stairs.

Regardless of how your fall down the stairs happened on someone else’s property, the element of negligence needs to be established. Few people are equipped to handle this themselves as they lack the understanding of the applicable laws. Even if you have some knowledge of premises liability, when you are seriously injured from this type of fall, the most important thing you can do is follow your doctor’s orders to heal and recover.

What Kind of Compensation is Available After Falling Down the Stairs?

When your fall down the stairs was caused by the property owner or management company neglecting to keep their premises safe, you can seek compensation for your damages. Generally, this will include your medical bills that you’ve already incurred along with any future medical expenses. You may have needed to ride in an ambulance or experienced multiple surgeries. You may require physical therapy to regain mobility. There may be many expensive prescription medications that you need to take for your recovery. Any medical expenses you’ve incurred from your injuries can be sought in your personal injury case.

Many victims injured in stairway accidents will also be unable to work in the short-term or over a long-term period. When your doctor orders you to stay home and rest, you have to follow their treatment plan. It can be frustrating since you’ll be receiving astronomical medical bills and not have any income coming in. You may need to use all of your paid time off from your job, or you may be permanently unable to perform the duties of your job again, requiring you to take a lower-paying job. An attorney can help you seek compensation for your lost income, including future loss of earnings.

In some tragic scenarios, a victim may not survive their fall down the stairs. You can file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover the funeral and burial expenses for your loved one. You may also seek the amount of income your relative would have earned had they not died from their injuries and receive compensation for the loss of their companionship and support. 

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Tips for Protecting Your Legal Rights After a Stairway Accident

If you fell down the stairs because there was a hazard that caused you to fall, you may be able to file a personal injury case to hold the property owner liable for your injuries. Since these types of cases are challenging to prove, the things you do in the moments after your fall have the potential to impact your claim. 

Take these steps to help protect your legal rights after you have fallen down the stairs on another person’s property:

Seek Prompt Medical Attention

Falls down any set of stairs, whether they are in front of a building’s entry or elsewhere, can lead to painful and debilitating injuries. Many people who fall down stairs and do not see visible wounds or can still move their limbs sometimes forget about the incident and don’t go to the doctor.

You should always visit a doctor as soon as possible after a fall of this kind. You may be one of the lucky ones who gets a clean bill of health after a fall but if you have serious injuries, they can be treated and you can start healing.

Going to the emergency room, urgent care center, or even your doctor will also create medical records of the injuries. You will need to present these records if you are filing an injury claim with the property owner or their insurance company.

Document the Scene of Your Fall

If you are conscious and able to do so, take photos of the stairwell to show what caused you to fall. Stairs that are carpeted may show signs of wear and tear at the edges, making it dangerous for anyone who walks up or down the stairwell. The stairs may be uneven, have rotting wood, or be missing entirely. 

The handrails could also have played a role in your fall. If they are loose and wiggle when you touch them, take a video to demonstrate how they will give way when you put your hand on them. If there are any handrails that are missing, get photos of them as well. Capturing evidence is crucial since some unscrupulous property owners may rush to make repairs, allowing them to claim nothing was wrong with the stairwell and that you were just careless.

In some cases, falls down stairs occur when they are slippery due water, ice, or another slippery substance. Your shoes and clothing can prove this was a factor in your fall as they may still have traces of the slippery substance on them. Take photos of your clothing and shoes, and keep them sealed in a zippered plastic bag for evidence.

Make a Report with the Property Owner or Management

While calling the police may not be necessary as it is in a motor vehicle crash, you should still report your fall down the stairs to the property owner or the manager. They will usually have a procedure for injury accidents and create an accident report. Make sure you get a copy of this document before you leave the premises. It can be a vital piece of evidence that can be used in your slip and fall lawsuit.

Always Keep Up with Your Medical Care

Your injuries will dictate the types of frequency of treatments you will need. Your doctor may issue a prescription for medication to help you with the pain. You should take the entire course of your medication as directed, even if you are starting to feel better.

If your doctor refers you to any specialists, make sure you keep the appointments. These records will show that you are following what the doctors have ordered for your recovery. When you do not continue your medical care as advised, it gives the insurance company ammunition to deny your claim on the grounds that you must not be as injured as you claim if you are not keeping up with the required treatment.

Document the State of Your Mental Health

Serious and painful physical injuries can cause your mental health to deteriorate. It can help to document your recovery in a journal to detail how you are feeling with each passing day. If you are feeling anxious, depressed, or suffering in your mental health, you should mention this to your doctor so they can refer you to a mental health specialist.

A mental health professional can provide a full evaluation and help you work through your emotions. This evaluation can also be used to prove that you have sustained pain and suffering, mental anguish, and emotional trauma. Documentation of your mental health status will make it easier to seek compensation for it in your case.

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When To Contact a Personal Injury Attorney for a Fall Down the Stairs

Falling down the stairs can be a painful experience that leaves you with severe injuries. After you have followed the steps listed above to protect your legal rights, you should not hesitate to speak with a personal injury lawyer about this situation.

An attorney can get to work gathering the evidence that you couldn’t after you fell down the stairs. They can try to find surveillance footage, speak to witnesses, talk to your doctors, and advocate on your behalf.

You will also have someone who will negotiate with the insurance company to get you what is fair for your injuries. From the start, your personal injury lawyer will be prepared to take your case to court, using their resources to obtain expert witnesses to further prove negligence and establish the liability of the property owner.

A personal injury case that involves a slip, trip, or fall down a set of stairs can be a complex ordeal. Maho Prentice, LLP is ready to stand up for injured victims in California who are being blamed by the insurer or property owner for their injuries. If you were hurt by falling down the stairs on someone else’s property, you should schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your legal options.

By Maho | Prentice, LLP Attorneys at Law on May 6, 2024