July 23, 2021
Staircase falls and escalator falls are considered premise liability incidents. “Slip and Fall” is a term commonly used to describe a premises liability case in which an injured party sustained personal injuries as a result of falling and sustaining personal injuries on a premise that was negligently maintained and/or operated. A slip and fall case can arise in various locations, including: Escalator Falls, Staircase Falls, Falls on Public Property, Falls on Slippery Floors, Restaurant Falls and Parking Lot Falls.
There is not an average settlement figure or range when it comes to the value of a slip and fall case. There are several factors which contribute to the value of a premise liability matter including: medical expenses, anticipated costs for future care, the nature and extent of sustained personal injuries, the defendant’s liability and the egregiousness of the property owner’s behavior. To further illustrate the massive discrepancy in premise liability case values, our offices discussed a slip and fall case on public property where the plaintiff secured a verdict in the amount of $21.5 million dollars and then considered another premise liability case where an injured party secured $250,00 following a parking lot fall.
California Code of Regulations, Title 8 Section 2009 defines an “Escalator” or Electric Stairway as “a moving, inclined continuous stairway used for raising or lowering passengers”. Given that escalators transport people, an escalator is deemed a common carrier and is held to a higher standard of care. Property owners whom own or maintain escalators on their premise owe patrons an elevated duty of care to be vigilant and avoid harming passengers.
In California this heightened duty is explained in California Civil Jury Instruction “CACI: 902. Duty of Common Carrier” which states: “Common carriers must carry passengers [or property] safely. Common carriers must use the highest care and the vigilance of a very cautious person. They must do all that human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under the circumstances to avoid harm to passengers [or property]. While a common carrier does not guarantee the safety of its passengers [or property that it transports], it must use reasonable skill to provide everything necessary for safe transportation.”
“Courts in many states have held that owners or operators of elevators are considered common carriers and thus are held to a heightened duty of care; those courts include courts in California. See Vandagriff v. J.C. Penney Co., 39 Cal. Rptr. 671, 673 (Ct. App. 1964); Champagne v. A. Hamburger & Sons, Inc., 147 P. 954, 957 (Cal. 1915); see also 6 WitKin, Summary of cal. law (10th ed. 2005), torts § 923. The duty owed by an operator or owner of an escalator or elevator in California is one of “the utmost caution characteristic of very careful prudent men or the highest degree of vigilance, care, and pre-caution.” W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser & Keeton on the law of torts § 34 (5th ed. 1984) (internal quotations omitted).” – Uncommon Perception: The Common Carrier Duty Does Not Rule Out Defense Verdicts in Elevator and Escalator Accident Trials – Guy R. Gruppie; FDCC Quarterly / Winter 2009
On September 09, 2005, 71-year old plaintiff Gerson Rosen, whom was retired at the time, fell down a non-working escalator. The escalator at issue was owned by Maguire Properties and secured by Universal Protection. Despite the fact that the escalator was stopped, the defendants and each of them failed to place a barricade, failed to provide adequate warning that the escalator was not functioning and failed to provide adequate lighting. As a result of the fall the plaintiff was transported to USC medical center for immediate treatment. Sustained injuries in this instance included: bilateral fractured ribs, facial laceration and internal bleeding. Medical expenses equated to roughly $100,000 and thankfully the plaintiff made a good recovery with nominal residual complaints. After a prolonged seven-day jury trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff $452,757 in damages. – Gerson Rosen v. Maguire Properties and Universal Protection; Superior Court of California, Los Angeles – Central; Case No. BC365956; Case Filed: August 14, 2006; Verdict: January 15, 2008
2016 California Building Code; California Code of Regulations Title 24, Part 2, defines a stairway as a means of egress. Given that staircases provide patrons a means of egress from a structure or portions thereof, stairways are subject to compliance with this code section. As such property owners whom own or maintain stairways on their premise owe patrons a duty to maintain the staircase in a reasonably safe condition which includes complying with riser and tread depth requirements per this code section.
Premise owners are under a duty to exercise ordinary care in the management of such premises in order to avoid exposing persons to an unreasonable risk of harm. A failure to fulfill this duty is negligence.” (Brooks v. Eugene Burger Management Corp. (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 1611, 1619). Where the dangerous or defective condition of the property which causes the injury has been created by reason of the negligence of the owner of the property or his employee acting within the scope of the employment, the owner of the property cannot be permitted to assert that he had no notice or knowledge of the defective or dangerous condition in an action by an invitee for injuries suffered by reason of the dangerous condition. Under such circumstances knowledge thereof is imputed to him. (Hatfield v. Levy Bros. (1941) 18 Cal.2d 798, 806).
When a stairway does not comply with applicable building code regulations it is automatically deemed a dangerous condition. Per Section 1011 Stairways: “1011.5.2 Riser height and tread depth. Stair riser heights shall be 7 inches (178 mm) maximum and 4 inches (102 mm) minimum. … 1011.5.4 Dimensional uniformity. Stair treads and risers shall be of uniform size and shape.” When stair configurations violate building codes (ie., step riser is too large or too shallow; steps are not uniform; or steps fail to include the yellow demarcation strip) the staircase non-compliance automatically makes the stairway defective and dangerous.
On February 13, 2009, plaintiff Antonio Gonzalez a retiree in his 80s, tripped and fell down the stairwell in Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach. The hospital stairs at the time were different heights and not painted brightly, making them difficult to navigate. Given the lack of uniformity with the staircase risers coupled with the lack of yellow demarcation, the stairwell was otherwise in a dangerous condition. As a result of the fall the plaintiff fractured his hip. During his stay at the hospital while seeking treatment for the hip fracture, plaintiff Gonzalez contracted pneumonia and died. The estate of plaintiff Gonzalez sought out compensation for the wrongful death and his surviving spouse sought recovery for the mental anguish she sustained as a result of her husband’s death. Following a five-day jury trial, a verdict in the amount of $6,113,609 was awarded in favor of the plaintiff’s estate and his surviving wife. – Rosalia Gonzalez, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Antonio Gonzalez v. Mount Sinai Medical Center of Greater Miami, Inc; Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, 11th – Florida State; Case No. 09-5990 CA 15; Verdict: January 31, 2011