I Fell on Apartment Stairs, Can I Sue the Apartment Complex?

All property owners have a legal responsibility to ensure that their premises are safe for visitors, although their degree of responsibility will largely depend on the status of the visitor in question. For instance, a person who actively invites others onto his or her land for a business purpose will be required to make a greater effort to maintain that property than would a landowner who doesn’t expect or invite visitors onto the premises. While most property owners are careful to abide by these rules and take great care in keeping their visitors safe, many are not so conscientious. This is especially true amongst landowners and property managers who rent their property to tenants, and due to an expectation of high turnover, often do not take as much care as they should in making their premises safe. 

This lack of maintenance could have a variety of negative consequences, including dangerous electrical work and outdated plumbing. Stairs in particular, however, have proven to be especially dangerous for tenants if not properly maintained. Fortunately, if the stairs were in violation of a building code or considered to be in a “dangerous condition”, you can sue the landlord and/or the management company for injuries sustained as a result of falling off stairs. To learn more about your own rights and legal obligations when it comes to renting an apartment, please contact one of our dedicated premises liability attorneys with your questions and concerns. 

Premises Liability in California

The term premises liability refers to a property owner’s legal responsibility towards its visitors. Although certain property owners, such as apartment building owners or landlords owe a responsibility to all of their visitors (with the exception of trespassers), their degree of responsibility largely depends on whether the visitor is an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. Invitees are owed the highest duty of care when it comes to property maintenance, as these individuals are specifically invited onto the property. Apartment building tenants fall under this category, which means that landlords and building managers must take a great deal of care to ensure the safety of its tenants and residents. 

Because keeping one’s premises safe for visitors is legally mandated for landlords in California, any property owners who fail to fulfill this duty can be held liable for damages compensating injured parties for related losses, including medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering. Unfortunately, filing this type of claim can be difficult, so it is especially important for those who were injured as a result of their landlord’s negligence, which includes a failure to maintain or repair the stairways, to speak with an experienced premises liability lawyer before filing a claim in court. Failing to retain an attorney at this stage in the proceedings can result in a case getting dismissed due to a minor error, such as a filing mistake. 

Landlord Duties

The duties that a landlord owes to its residents include an obligation to keep their premises safe by:

  • Checking their property for obvious or hidden hazards; 
  • Making necessary repairs;
  • Maintaining common areas for tenants;
  • Taking security measures to protect residents; and
  • Posting signs to warn residents of hidden dangers.

Taking all of these steps can reduce a resident’s risk of being involved in a slip and fall accident. This is also true when it comes to apartment stairways, which must be kept clear of debris and tripping hazards. Landlords are also required to:

  • Install proper lighting in stairwells;
  • Replace any torn or bulging carpet or other flooring material;
  • Repair or replace any missing stairs or damaged stair rails;
  • Ensure that stair treads are repaired if slippery or uneven; 
  • Install handrails for resident safety; and
  • Place signs to warn residents of construction, hazards, or ongoing repairs. 

While many landlords and property managers are careful to fulfill their legal duties to tenants by making necessary repairs and performing regular maintenance, an alarming number fail to do so.  In these cases, property owners and their managers can be held liable for their negligence if it results in a tenant’s injury. 

Apartment Staircase Conditions that Could Lead to a Lawsuit

There are a variety of conditions that could lead to a staircase being dangerous and could support a claim of negligence. These conditions could include but are not limited to the following:

  • They did not comply with building code and other ordinances
  • Lacked adequate lighting
  • The surface of the staircase was slippery
  • The staircase had uneven stairs/steps
  • Lacked a handrail or the handrail was unstable
  • Insufficient rail guards (too low)
  • Debris / objects in the stairwell that block path
  • Worn out / buckled carpeting

Holding landlords accountable for this type of negligence is important because the injuries sustained in falls, especially those that take place on stairs, tend to result in particularly severe injuries. 

Injuries from Falling Down Stairs

Staircase accidents can be extremely dangerous. There are a number of injuries that could occur, the severity of which depends partly on the age and general health of the injured party, as well as the steepness and number of stairs. Some of these accidents include but are not limited to the following:

  • Head and Brain Injuries – Brain injuries, concussions, contusions, and skull fractures
  • Neck Injuries – Muscle strains, sprains, soft tissue injuries, torn ligaments, broken upper cervical vertebrae, and other upper cervical injuries
  • Back Injuries – Back sprains, back sprains, fractured vertebrae, broken or damaged ribs, slipped or displaced disks, spinal cord injuries
  • Wrist and Forearm Injuries – Dislocated wrist, broken or fractured bones, sprains, and strains
  • Ankle Injuries – Sprained or strained ankle, torn or ruptured achilles tendon, broken bones
  • Leg Injuries – Broken or fractured bones, dislocations
  • Dislocations Injuries – Due to the forceful nature of falls, joints becoming dislocated.
  • Broken Bone Injuries – Broken bones from falls are extremely common
  • Abrasions, scrapes, and lacerations, which may require sutures or stitches depending on their severity. 

Treating these types of serious injuries can be both painful and expensive, leaving accident victims to suffer from chronic pain that could last for months or even years after the fall. Some slip and fall victims could even be forced to grapple with permanent disability, a fate that is particularly common amongst those who sustain serious head trauma or spinal cord injuries. 

The Elements of a Premises Liability Claim

In personal injury cases, it is your burden to establish the elements of a premises liability claim. In doing so, you will have to answer the following questions:

  • Did the landlord know that the staircase was in a dangerous condition?
  • What steps did the landlord take to fix the dangerous condition?
  • Were there prior accidents involving the same defect?

Answers to these questions will help determine your chances of prevailing in a personal injury case. This is because landlords can only be held liable for damages if a plaintiff can prove that:

  • The landlord owed a duty of care to its residents;
  • The landlord violated that duty by failing to maintain or repair a staircase; and
  • The landlord’s failure to fulfill this duty resulted in an injury to the plaintiff. 

Proving that these elements have been fulfilled can be a difficult endeavor and usually requires the collection and submission of convincing evidence, including photographs taken at the time of the fall, video recordings of the accident, medical records related to the plaintiff’s injury, relevant building codes, and copies of the plaintiff’s lease agreement. In fact, checking the rental agreement is a critical part of determining whether a landlord can be held liable for a resident’s fall at all, as these agreements often include language that protects the property owner, property manager, or landlord from liability for property-related accidents. 

Fortunately, even when these contracts exist, a plaintiff may still have standing to file a claim against the negligent property owner in court, as these individuals are still required by law to refrain from negligence in maintaining their properties. 

See “types of damages covered by slip and fall compensation” for further information.

The good news is that a knowledgeable slip and fall attorney will ask the right questions and gather the evidence you need to get compensation for your injuries.

If you have sustained an injury as a result of a dangerous condition, it is imperative that you document the accident location.  This can be easily done by taking lots of pictures of the accident location and the defect that caused you to fall.

It is equally important to immediately contact a premises liability attorney to help you get money for your injuries.

When choosing an attorney, make sure he or she has had previous experience in handling premises liability claims. We have already discussed the number one reason slip and fall cases are unsuccessful, explaining how unprepared and inexperienced lawyers can fail their clients.

If your accident happened in California and you have questions regarding your accident, feel free to call (213) 891-0777 or email me for a free consultation with one of the dedicated premises liability attorneys at Fisher & Talwar. A member of our legal team is standing by and prepared to begin working with you through each step of your case.