When you enter a business or someone’s home, the last thing you expect is to grab for a handrail and have it break loose or injure you. A broken or faulty handrail can lead to a serious slip and fall injury very quickly, especially in instances where the handrail may look secure but isn’t. Whether the handrail is located in a stairwell, a balcony, an entryway, or a ramp, visitors depend on these handrails to guide them safely and provide balance.
When climbing a flight of stairs, for example, we depend on handrails to retain our balance and maintain momentum. Upon losing that balance due to a handrail that unexpectedly breaks loose or gives away, the body still carries momentum. This momentum when paired with the loss of balance can easily result in a backwards fall down the stairs. Similarly, when going downstairs, a handrail that breaks loose can quickly cause a forward fall.
Falling injuries on stairs are among the most dangerous falling accidents the body can experience due to the overall height of a stairwell and the fact that falls down stairs have multiple impact points that can cause injury. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 800,000 people a year are hospitalized due to falling injuries. Many of these undoubtedly occur in stairwells or other locations where handrails exist.
To prevent serious slip and fall injuries, building and property owners need to ensure stairwells, entryways, and access ramps have handrails that are well-maintained, up to building codes, and are not faulty. These duties fall under the area of law we call premises liability. Premises liability laws state that all property owners—whether they are homeowners, owners of apartment complexes, or business owners—have a legal obligation to ensure their properties are safe for visitors. If they fail this duty, they may be able to be held liable for injuries.
Let’s take a look at why broken and loose handrails can be so dangerous and why falling accidents are often caused by faulty handrails.
When Is a Handrail Considered Faulty?
The term faulty is used to describe something having a fault or faults. In areas of personal injury law, such as in cases involving premises liability or slip and fall accidents, we generally use the term to imply that something is defective, made in error, or otherwise unreliable. In all three of these instances in the case of handrails, it falls under the property owner to ensure that handrails are not faulty.
Handrails such as those that are typically found in a stairwell, walkway, entryway, balcony, outdoor deck, or wheelchair ramp/incline are commonly found to be faulty for the following reasons:
- Improper installation of the handrail
- Railings that are not compliant with local building codes
- Handrails that are manufactured poorly or with a defect
- Handrails that are installed at an improper height
- Railings with slats, such as those on a balcony or deck, installed with improper spacing which may allow a child to injure themselves or fall
- Handrails that are not properly maintained or fixed/replaced when damaged
- Handrails that have sharp edges (either through a defect or through damage) that may cause injury
In all of the above scenarios, injury can easily occur if the railings are not replaced and/or repaired. Improper installation can lead to handrails that become loose. Railings installed at an improper height can make it impossible for children to utilize them or may not provide proper balance. Railings on balconies that are too short can cause visitors to fall. Deck railings with improper slat placement can cause a child to become trapped between the slats. Sharp edges on railings can cause injury when someone places their hands on them.
Who Is Liable for Faulty Handrails?
Under premises liability laws, if a visitor on premises such as a business or home where the visitor is invited to enter is injured due to handrails that are faulty or unexpectedly become loose when they are used, the injured victim may be able to hold the property owner legally liable. In order to do so, the victim will need to prove that their injuries were caused by the faulty handrailing and that there were no warning signs in place that warned visitors of the faulty or defective status.
Property owners have a legal responsibility to fix or replace faulty handrails within a reasonable amount of time if they know they are faulty. If they are unable to fix the handrailing upon discovering it is faulty or not operating correctly, the owner should have placed warning signs or otherwise stopped visitors from accessing the stairwell, balcony, or walkway in question.
In some instances, the manufacturer of a faulty handrail or railing can be found liable for allowing the railing to be made incorrectly or with parts that are low in quality. In most cases, however, the property owner is held liable for failing to uphold their responsibility to maintain safe premises. When the handrailing is installed, the rails need to be inspected to ensure they are solid and strong enough and lacking sharp edges that may be dangerous. Handrails must also be installed according to state laws and building codes that govern what makes a stairway or walkway safe.
It’s also up to the property owner to ensure walkways, stairwells, ramps, and balconies are regularly inspected and maintained. Normal wear and tear is normal, but when a handrail becomes weak with use over time, loose, or rusted, it’s the property owner’s responsibility to repair the railing or replace it entirely.
If you or someone you love fell and sustained injury or otherwise became seriously injured when visiting a business, apartment complex, public venue, or private home while utilizing the owner’s stairs or walkway and you believe the accident was caused by a faulty handrail, you may be eligible to file a premises liability claim in the state of Maryland. To find out more information or learn if you have a potential case, we encourage you to get in touch with Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz, LLC today. Our attorneys are ready to help you decide if legal action is in your best interest.