When Are Stairs An Unreasonably Unsafe Condition?

stairs_away_gradually_rise-683x1024Sometimes, commonplace items such as stairs can lead to serious injuries. This case involves the unfortunate situation of a woman who fell down stairs and was injured. Under what circumstances can a building owner be held responsible for injuries from falling down the stairs? 

Earline Couvillion fell on stairs while leaving a building owned by Riverside Properties. The stairs were made of cement. The stairs were frayed on the edges and did not have a handrail. Couvillion claimed she herniated discs in her back, strained and cut her knee, and damaged her nerves as a result of her fall down the stairs. 

Couvillion filed a lawsuit against Riverside Properties and their insurer, claiming their negligence resulted in her accident. She claimed Riverside Properties had failed to maintain and keep the stairs safe, had not installed handrails, and had otherwise been negligent. Riverside Properties filed a summary judgment motion, which the district court granted. Couvillion appealed.

Under La. C.C. art. 2317.1, the owner of an item – here, the stairs – is reasonable for a defect if he should have known about the defect and failed to exercise reasonable care. Other courts in Louisiana have held that stairs that do not have a handrail, worn out stairs, and broken steps create unreasonably dangerous conditions. See Richardson v. City of Gramercy

On appeal, Couvillion argued there were a number of outstanding genuine issues of material facts that made summary judgment inappropriate. These included whether the stairs were worn, if the stairs were required to have handrails, whether a handrail would have prevented the accident, whether Riverside knew about the stairs’ defects and no handrail, and whether Riverside Properties exercised reasonable care. 

Couvillion provided a report from a professional industrial engineer. The engineer concluded Couvillion’s injuries resulted from the worn out stairs that did not have a handrail. Here Couvillion raised numerous factual issues related to whether there was an unreasonable unsafe condition at the building where she fell. She provided a report from an expert in support of her argument. She also provided relevant case law that supported her argument the condition of the stairs at the building where she fell were unreasonably unsafe. Therefore, the appellate court held the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Riverside Properties because there were genuine issues of material fact. 

As this case illustrates, the condition of the stairs was a major factor in determining whether an unreasonably unsafe condition existed such that Riverside Properties could be held liable for Couvillion’s injuries from falling down the stairs. Although the trial court initially ruled in favor of Couvillion, she was able to raise multiple examples of factual disputes on appeal that contributed to the appellate court overturning the initial ruling in favor of Riverside Properties. 

As the appellate court noted, the case law Couvillion provided, as well as testimony from the professional engineer she retained, were essential to establishing factual disputes existed such that summary judgment was inappropriate. A good lawyer can help you find applicable case law and present evidence in support of your claim, just like Couvillion did to prevail here.

Additional Sources: Earlene Couvillon v. Riverside Properties, LLC and XYZ Ins. Co.

Article Written By Berniard Law Firm

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