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  • Writer's pictureRobert Schuerger II

Liability in Stair Accidents: Proving Fault in a Premises Liability Claim

Staircase accidents cause thousands of injuries and visits to the emergency room every year. There are several dangers involved in stairs- some obvious, and others less so. When people fall and hurt themselves on stairs in someone else's property, they may wonder who is liable and what they can claim.

Understanding liability in stair accidents can help victims know the next steps to take after their injury. With the support of a trusted premises liability attorney, they can take their claim and win the settlement they deserve.

An Introduction to Stair Accidents

An Introduction to Stair Accidents

Staircase accidents are included in the slip, trip, and fall category. Like other slip-and-fall accidents, they can lead to serious injuries and steep medical bills. What sets accidents on stairs apart are the additional hidden risks that are not always immediately noticeable to those who are injured.

What Are the Common Causes of Stair Accidents?

Here are some of the things that often contribute to slip and fall accidents on stairs.

  • Uneven stairs due to poor construction or wear and tear

  • Building code violations such as incorrect height and depth of stairs or missing handrails

  • Slippery surfaces from worn carpets, highly-polished wood, or water or ice on outdoor stairs

  • Poor lighting conditions in the stairwell

  • Lack of wet floor signs during or after cleaning

  • Spills that have not been cleaned properly

  • Obstacles or debris left lying around

Who May be Liable in Stair Slip and Fall Accidents?

Liability for accidents on stairs depends on the circumstances that lead to the injury. In some cases, the injured person is at least partially to blame due to carelessness, but they still may be able to make a claim.

Property owners are the most likely to be the liable party through negligence in their duty of care or a building code violation. Sometimes, the fault can lie with a business owner, even if they don't personally own the property, or the construction company in charge of building the stairs could be considered at fault if it is a structural issue that could not have been noticed by the average person.

When Are Property Owners At Fault in Stair Accidents?

In most cases, the property owner is the first person assumed liable when someone falls on their stairs. The reason for this is the fact that every property owner, according to Tennessee law, has a duty of care to almost anyone present on their premises, whether it is residential, commercial, industrial, or otherwise.

That duty of care requires

What Is Comparative Negligence and How Does it Apply to Personal Injury Claims?

Comparative negligence is when more than one party is partially to blame for the accident- in this case, usually the property owner and the injured person.

To successfully prove fault and claim compensation, the comparative fault of the victim cannot be greater than 49%. In other words, the victim must be less to blame than the owner.

The amount of compensation awarded is in scale with the percentage of blame on the injured party, meaning the more blame they share, the less the settlement is likely to be.

How to Prove Fault in Stair Accidents

In stair accidents, proving fault comes down to establishing that someone (usually the property owner) failed to uphold their duty of care, and as a result, somebody was injured. To do this, the victim's legal team must establish that the person was negligent, their actions caused the accident or incident, and that they had (or should have had) knowledge of the dangerous condition that led to someone's injuries.

Here is a closer look at each element.


First, it has to be established that the property owner did or failed to do something and created a dangerous condition in the process. The duty of care applies to anyone who is invited onto the property (including employees, customers, patrons, and visitors), and if it is not fulfilled, this is viewed as negligence.

Some examples of how negligent actions can lead to fall accidents on stairs include:

  • Cleaning staff leaving wet patches on the stairs and not leaving a clear warning sign

  • Owners failing to replace old, worn carpets

  • Design choices that use potentially dangerous materials on stair surfaces

  • Broken or missing handrails that have not been repaired or replaced

  • Failure to replace light bulbs in stairwells

  • Leaving items sitting around at the top of stairs that people may trip over

  • Ignoring building codes when constructing stairwells


Once negligence is proven, the next step is showing that it was the reason the accident happened. At this point, the injured person's actions are also considered, and comparative fault comes into play.

To successfully prove liability and fault in a stair accident, it must be clear that the property owner's actions were more to blame than the victim's carelessness.

Say, for example, there is a slippery surface on the stairs, but not so slippery that it poses a great deal of threat. If a person comes running down the stairs in inappropriate footwear, there is a case to be made for comparative fault.

On the other hand, someone walking calmly and normally down a flight of stairs who falls because of an uneven surface that they didn't see because of low lighting is far more likely to prove that the fault lies with the property owner.


The final step in proving fault is to show that the owner had prior knowledge of the dangerous condition and did nothing about it. If the handrails were removed weeks ago and no replacement has been installed, this shows knowledge and a failure to act.

Liability also applies to owners who should have known about a potential danger, even if they claim they did not. If there is uneven stair height or other building codes have been violated, and the owner says they didn't know, they may still be liable because it is part of their duty to ensure the safety of others on their property.

In short, if a reasonable person should have known that something posed a threat, the property owners could be liable.

What Is the Property Owner Liable For if They Are Found to Be At Fault?

If a property owner is found to be at fault for a stair accident, they are liable for a range of damages. The specifics depend on the case, but these are the categories generally covered.

  • All medical bills and expenses related to treatment for the injuries sustained

  • Lost wages during the time of recovery

  • Property damage repair or replacement costs (broken phones, damaged clothing, or anything else that is affected by the fall)

  • Legal costs

In a serious slip that results in significant injuries, the property owner may also be liable to pay pain and suffering damages for the emotional distress caused and the long-term impacts of the injuries.

If the negligence is considered criminal, there may also be punitive damages awarded to the victim by a judge after a criminal case. This is not part of the settlement with the insurance company but is court-ordered. It only applies in cases of gross negligence or accidents on stairs that are considered to be on purpose.

How Can a Stair Slip and Fall Accident Lawyer Help?

How Can a Stair Slip and Fall Accident Lawyer Help?

When someone is injured by falling down or slipping on stairs, the battle to recover compensation and ease their financial burden can be difficult to face. On top of that, proving premises liability in stair fall cases can be difficult, as the insurance company will not want to pay out.

Having a dedicated legal expert with a background in Tennessee premises liability and personal injury gives victims a better chance of achieving justice and receiving a fair settlement.

It also takes the weight of negotiations and putting together a claim off of the victim's shoulders and into the hands of a team of professionals who have experience handling this type of case.

Having a recognized law firm representing the victim also ensures the claim is taken seriously and gets the response and serious settlement offers it deserves.

Work with Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys for a Legal Team that Go to War for Nash Accident Victims

Anyone injured in a Tennessee stair slip or fall accident that was not their fault can turn to Scheurger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys for the legal guidance and support they need. They can help with questions such as What are the most common premises liability injuries?

The elite legal minds on this team go to war for clients to prove fault and liability in their cases a secure the maximum possible compensation for their injuries and all expenses incurred.

Contact the team today to arrange a free consultation to evaluate your case and start the journey toward justice. The statute of limitations on personal injury cases in Tennessee is one year, so it is vital to act quickly and hold the responsible parties accountable.

Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys fight for injured victims and help them move past an incredibly difficult time in their lives. Let them go to war for you.


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