Q: One day, at a century-old building, I was going down the exterior stairs leading to the basement. There I would punch-in at the office of my employer. I had just stepped down from the top step, which was still wet from rain, and I started to fall. The handrail did not begin until the third step down. I reached for it in order to stop my fall, but the handrail was out of reach. So I fell down five or six steps.
A: The violation of a regulation, such as a provision of the building code, does not constitute negligence per se, but it often constitutes evidence of negligence. As to whether you have such evidence, most likely, under the current applicable building code, a handrail must extend to the top of a staircase.
All the same, the owner may contend that the building is exempt from such a requirement on the grounds of a ‘preexisting use’ – that the handrail was an original feature of the building. The owner would seek to put forth testimony (a) that its limited records do not indicate that the stairs or handrail had been replaced or substantially modified in recent decades and (b) that its employees have no recollection of any such activities. Nevertheless, this is not the same as proving that the handrail was an original element of the building.
Moreover, even if the handrail was an original element, and so current building-code standards do not apply, that does not dispose of your common-law negligence claim: generally, compliance with regulations, or a building code, is not dispositive on the issue of negligence. Your attorney is likely to argue that a handrail starting at the third step is inherently a dangerous condition.
Please note that, even if your fall was precipitated by a misstep, given your testimony that you reached out, there is an issue of fact as to whether the absence of a handrail at the top of the stairs was a proximate cause of your injury. Likewise, the fact that presumably you had used these stairs in the past and so may have been aware of the defective condition does not defeat your claim. Rather, these circumstances may be considered by a jury in assessing comparative negligence.
By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial
The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.
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