Yes. Most states require the following three conditions before a local government can be held liable for injury:
- The local government was negligent in constructing or maintaining the stairway: When building or maintaining a stairway, local governments are generally obligated to make the stairway reasonably safe for all citizens. Although what constitutes "reasonably safe" can vary, most courts at least require that a stairway have no defects. Failure to make a stairway reasonably safe is considered grounds for labeling a local government negligent.
- Negligent construction or maintenance of the stairway was the main cause of injury: For example, if a person trips on a large crack on a stairway and breaks their arm, it’s obvious that the injury was caused mainly by the damaged stairway. In contrast, if the person was pushed off the stairway by another person, you could argue that the cracked stairway had little or nothing to do with the injury.
- The injured person didn’t contribute to their own injury or assume any risks: This is a way for courts to make sure local governments aren’t punished for people that needlessly endanger themselves. For example, someone who rides a skateboard along a stairway rail or who decides to run down a flight of stairs with "wet floor" signs posted everywhere.
Can Local Governments Protect Themselves with Government Immunity?
Yes, many states have laws in place that protect local governments from injury liability when conducting normal government activities. Some states have considered the construction and maintenance of public stairways as a government activity, therefore shielding local government from injury liability.
Does This Mean Odds of Recovery Are Low?
Not necessarily. Even in states where public stairways are protected by government immunity, some laws provide exceptions where defective conditions on the stairway are excessively dangerous and readily apparent (i.e. the unsafe conditions on the stairway are obvious enough that the local government should have known about it).
How Can a Lawyer Help Me?
If you were injured due to a defect in a public stairway, you should contact a personal injury attorney to learn about your legal options. A lawyer can look into government immunity laws in your state, and determine whether or not recovery for your injury is possible. An attorney can also examine the strength of your case based on the three requirements listed above.