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When Is A Los Angeles Property Owner Liable?


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A property owner is typically held liable for any stair accident that occurs on their property. However, stairs are unique and require unique considerations to determine liability. Stairs have both obvious and not so obvious dangers.

Below, our experienced premises liability attorneys will discuss stair related accidents, along with how liability is determined. If you have suffered injuries as a result of a premises liability accident in California, the experienced premises liability attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers are always here to answer any questions you may have about premises liability claims and available damages.

Icy Or Wet Stairs


The accumulation of rain, snow, or ice on outdoor stairs is of course a huge slip and fall hazard. A property owner has an added duty of care in such weather conditions. Furthermore, if a property owner is already aware that outdoor stairs on their property are prone to accumulate water or ice, they have a responsibility to address the issue. Failure to do so may incur liability.

Slippery Surfaces


Another typical stair related hazard is a slightly worn out piece of step that doesn’t immediately appear obviously worn out, yet is especially slippery. Also, there are tile or wood stairs that are extremely slippery. These stairs may be beautiful, but a property owner can be held liable if someone suffers a slip and fall.

Inadequate Handrails


Proper handrails are a requirement for most types of stairs. If a victim fell on stairs that were legally required to have handrails and didn’t, the property owner will likely be held liable for any losses suffered.
Furthermore, building codes will typically dictate that handrails must be of a specific height or width, as well. A handrail that isn’t properly installed may also cause a fall even if the stairs themselves were perfectly safe.

Stair Height And Depth


The part of the step that is vertical is called the riser and the horizontal part is called the run. There are building codes that determine measurements for risers and runs. If stairs are not built up to code they are inherently defective and may subject a property owner to liability.

Uneven Stair Heights Or Depth


There are also building codes that determine the amount of variation from one step to the next. In other words, there are codes that regulate the height or depth from step to another. These codes are important because people are expecting the distance from one step to the next to be more or less the same. A minor deviation, such as when the next step is further away than the previous, can result in someone losing their balance and falling.

Premises Liability And Outdoor Staircases


According to California Civil Code 1714(a): “Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person…”

Premises liability lawsuits that involve stairs require an injured individual to prove that he or she was harmed because of a property owner/manager’s negligence. An injured individual must specifically prove that the:

  • Defendant leased, owned, occupied, or was controlling the property where the incident took place
  • Defendant acted negligently regarding use or maintenance of the property
  • Plaintiff was hurt
  • Defendant's negligence was the primary factor that caused a plaintiff's injuries

As mentioned, all property owners have a duty of care to reasonably maintain their premises. A duty of care for a property owner essentially encompasses any actions that a reasonable property owner should take or should have taken in similar circumstances, such as removing excess water or snow, or adding non-slip matts. It’s also important to understand that a property owner’s duty of care may vary depending on who is on their property.
When it comes to deciding if a property owner/manager breached his or her duty of care, the following will be considered:

  1. How likely is an injury to occur given the circumstances?
  2. How serious could such an injury be in these circumstances?
  3. Did the owner know about or should have known about the hazardous condition that caused the accident?
  4. Where is the property located?
  5. How much of a burden would it have been to minimize or eliminate the hazardous condition?
  6. How much control did the property owner have over the hazardous condition?

If it can be proven that a property owner failed in their duty of care, and this failure caused a stair accident, an aggrieved individual will typically be entitled to damages for his or her losses.

Available Damages


Accidents happen. If you were injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. Below is a brief explanation of damages. Damages are a type of monetary award that is determined by a court of law to help compensate an aggrieved individual for any losses or injuries sustained as a result of someone’s negligence.

Economic Damages
Economic damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for losses that a dollar amount can readily be attached to. Economic damages are calculated by determining the amount of out of pocket losses an aggrieved individual has or will expect to incur as a result of their injuries.
A few examples of economic losses include:

  • Loss of Earning Capacity
  • Medical Bills
  • Lost Wages

Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic damages are essentially intended to cover losses that are thought of as subjective and will not necessarily cover out of pocket losses. Non-economic damages may include compensation for:

  • Emotional Distress
  • Pain And Suffering
  • Loss Of Enjoyment Of Life

Punitive Damages
The third type of damages a California court may award are known as punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended as punishment and are only awarded when a defendant’s behavior is especially harmful. Punitive damages are relatively rare and in fact were only incorporated in 5% of all verdicts.
Furthermore, there is no real set standard for calculating and awarding punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded at the court’s discretion and will vary depending on the specific circumstances of a case.

Contact West Coast Trial Lawyers to find out how we can help
If you have sustained injuries in the city of Los Angeles as a result of a premises liability accident, an attorney at West Coast Trial Lawyers can help you recover financial compensation for the losses you have suffered, including medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Call us today at (213) 927-3700 or email [email protected] to schedule a free consultation with our experienced, caring, and compassionate legal team.

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