Home owner of defective stairs ordered to pay substantial damages in compensation to visitor for accident

Published 28 Nov 2017

Our client was a lawful entrant and visitor at a residential premises located on the Mid North Coast Region of NSW. The owner was the occupier of the premises and was vested with the care, control and maintenance of the premises. Our client was walking down an internal set of stairs when she fell whilst attempting to negotiate the last step which was different in shape and size in comparison to all of the other steps. Our client was not aware of this at the time.

In terms of the particulars of the variation in these steps, the lower step was triangular-shaped, whereas all of the other steps were rectangular-shaped. The lower step has a greater width where all of the other steps had a much narrower width. Finally the lower step did not feature a hand rail adjacent to it, since the available hand rail did not extend along the full length of the set of stairs. This in our view did not comply with building code regulations and safety standards.

As a result of the accident our client suffered quite serious fractures to her left foot and right ankle which required her to undergo a number of operations and having plates, screws and wires in the left foot and right ankle. Her injury was very serious.

We wrote to the owner of the premises outlining the circumstances of our client’s accident and why we believed that the owner of the premises was negligent in the circumstances. The owner denied liability and that they were negligent in the circumstances. Their insurer acted on their behalf in the matter.

We launched the legal proceedings against the owner of the premises and the particulars of the negligence included amongst other details failing to ensure that a suitable hand rail was installed, failed to ensure that steps were similar size and appearance, failing to provide a handrail which extended along the full length of the set of stairs, failing to ensure that the lower step was resurfaced with anti-slip material, failing to ensure that the nose of the lower step was fitted with anti-slip strip, failing to ensure that all of the steps was evenly illuminated, and failing to warn our client that the first step was entirely different in shape and size to the other steps and that the available hand rail did not to extend to the end of the stair case.

The defendant filed a defence denying all liability and negligence in relation to our client’s claim, stating that the risk was not foreseeable, and that the risk was insignificant, and that the defendant did not breach a duty of care owed to our client. The defendant also pleaded particulars of contributory negligence saying that our client failed to any sufficient care for her own safety. But our client at the time was not aware of the difference in the steps and the danger that they posed to people using the stairs.

Having regard to the significance of the liability matters and the serious of our client’s injuries we arranged for a consulting engineer and a building expert to view the defendant’s premises for the purposes of providing a liability expert report in the matter.

The liability report from the consulting engineer provided advice that our client’s accident could have been prevented by refixing the hand rails so that it sits in accord with the relevant building codes and extends for the full length for the flight of stairs. Also reconstructing the bottom step so that it is the same width, length and height as the rest of the flight stairs, and resurfacing the step in a material which is anti-slip or applying anti-slip strips at the nosing. As such the primary cause of our client’s injury was the failure to provide a safe means of access to all areas of the residence.

The building consulting expert who also viewed the defendant owner’s premises, opined that the stair case did not comply with the relevant building codes and that there were deficiencies and defects in the stair case that are a significant and ongoing safety concern. In the building consultant expert opinion, it was his opinion that the risk of accident and injury could have been and can still be significantly reduced with the installation of a compliant stair case to the premises.

The defendant obtained their own liability expert report in reply stating that the defendant was not negligent in causing our clients injury and that there was no departure from good building practice.in relation to the stair case.

Even allowing for that our liability expert evidence from a consulting engineer and a building consulting expert in our opinion were quit significant and overwhelming in the circumstances and that we would be able to establish negligence against the home owner in causing our clients injury, losses and damages. The circumstances of the accident were different in that the internal set of stairs, and particularly the lower step where our client fell and was injured was different in shape and size in comparison to all of the other steps. It was in our view a significant danger to any person using the premises.

In terms of our clients injury she suffered multiple fractures of the left foot and right ankle as well as the right ankle bone detachment which required her to undergo a number of operations over a period of time in which she required plates, screws and wires to be placed in the left foot and right ankle. We obtained medical reports from our client’s doctors and specialists and all the medical and treatment reports confirm that our client had suffered a significant injury that would affect her ability to lead a normal life. She went through a significant period of treatment, surgery, recover and rehabilitation. Our client had suffered a significantly reduced capacity to participate in normal social, domestic, recreational, sporting and employment activities. This was going to weigh heavily on our clients assessment of damages.

The court listed the matter for hearing and medical experts and liability experts were required to attend court to give evidence in the proceedings. The court also ordered that the parties arrange for a court appointed mediation hearing for the purposes of reviewing the liability and medical issues in the matter and to consider the possibility of resolving the proceedings in their entirety. The parties arranged for a mediation hearing before a suitably well qualified and eminent legal expert. Our client attended the mediation hearing. After a number of hours of discussions on the liability and medical issues, the parties were able to resolve the totality of the proceedings. The defendant was ordered to pay our client substantial damages in compensations for her injuries, losses and damages. This was a vindication for our client in establishing negligence against the owner of the premises in causing her accident.

Our client was very satisfied and pleased with the outcome of the settlement. This was a particularly difficult case against a home owner, but in our view the particulars of negligence were quite clear in the deficiency in the stairs and noting the significance of our clients injuries from suffering from multiple fractures to her left foot and right ankle which required numerous operations and let her permanently disabled for life.

Conclusion

If you are a lawful entrant or visitor on premises and you suffer serious injury as a result of the negligence of the owners or any other entity of the premises, you may be entitled to damages in compensation as a result of your injuries, losses and damages arising from the accident.

Our client in this case was a lawful entrant and visitor to a residential premises where here were deficiencies in the internal stairs which resulted in her falling and suffering serious injury. A consulting engineer and a building consultant both confirmed that the stair case did not conform to the relevant building codes. That liability evidence in our view was overwhelming. Although the defendant denied liability in relation to our clients claim it was conceded that our clients had suffered quite a serious injury in the accident. After the parties had been ordered to attend to a medication hearing, the defendant was ordered to pay our client substantial damages in compensation for her injuries, losses and damages.

This case is a clear illustration of the duty of care, obligations and responsibilities of the owner of the premises, in order to ensure that they are safe to all visitors whilst they come onto their premises.

For a free no obligation consultation please contact our toll free number 1800 004 878 so that an appointment can be arranged for you to attend our office for you to protect your legal rights arising from your injury.