Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal of Stairway Trip and Fall Case Involving $240k in Damages

One of the most common types of premises liability cases that we handle as Chicago personal injury attorneys are cases involving faulty or dangerous staircases. In a recent Illinois Court of Appeal opinion, the plaintiff alleged that she suffered injuries when she fell down a staircase comprised of 15 wooden steps. The plaintiff alleged that her injuries occurred because the staircase did not contain a handrail on both sides of the stairs. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the property owners, alleging that they failed to meet their duty of care in ensuring that the staircase was safe and that they failed to provide adequate warnings about the staircase’s alleged danger. As far as injuries, the plaintiff suffered a fracture that required surgery and incurred a total of $240,000 in medical costs, according to her complaint.

During the discovery phase of the trial, the plaintiff testified that she could not identify or recall what caused her to lose her balance and fall down the staircase. The plaintiff testified instead that she recalled “flying through the air trying to get my grip or balance myself” but that there wasn’t anything for her to grab. The plaintiff also testified that she believed she would have been able to regain her balance had there been a handrail for her to grab. The plaintiff presented a building inspector as a witness who inspected the stairway. He provided an expert opinion indicating that the lack of adequate handrails violated Chicago’s Municipal Code 13-160-320(a) and 13-160-320(b).

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, stating that the fact that the plaintiff did not know what caused her fall precluded her from proving that her injuries were a result of the defendant’s alleged negligence. The plaintiff refuted this, stating that her testimony regarding the impact of the inadequate handrails created a question of material fact rendering summary judgment inappropriate. The lower court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

On review, the court of appeal reasoned that the plaintiff’s testimony regarding her fall did not create a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the defendant’s alleged failure to provide sufficient handrails was the cause of her fall. The plaintiff indicated that she would have grabbed a handrail had one existed. According to the court, speculation that the lack of a handrail caused the plaintiff to fall was not sufficient to create an issue of fact regarding causation and the defendant’s liability.

Additionally, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that evidence of the defendant’s building code violation constituted prima facie evidence of negligence. According to the court, the simple fact that the defendant violated a building code is not sufficient to support an award of damages. The plaintiff still needs to demonstrate that this negligent conduct was the cause of her injuries. Accordingly, the court of appeal affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in the defendant’s favor.

If you or someone you love has been injured due to a dangerous condition on another person’s property or at a retail establishment, you may be entitled to compensation. At Therman Law Offices, we proudly serve victims in a variety of personal injury matters, including premises liability cases and car accident lawsuits. To schedule your free consultation, call us at 1-773-545-8849 or contact us online to get started.

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