I was recently talking to a friend of mine who told me that he got into an argument with a landlord about the stairs leading to his porch. They were, in his words, “the most uneven stairs on this green earth.” He was sure someone was going to break their neck. But, he said, he didn’t even notice how bad they were until one time he slipped on them.
That’s the thing with stairs: they’re such a part of our lives that we only think about them two times: when we’re tired and don’t feel like taking them, and when we fall. That’s why, too often, when people fall down the stairs at work, they don’t know if they are eligible for workers compensation.
That makes a bad situation even worse. Not knowing your rights makes it harder for you to claim them, and easier for insurance companies to deny them to you. There are broad situations where stairway accidents gives you eligibility for worker compensation claims, but only if you handle your injury claim and workers comp case correctly.
Falling down stairs is a split-second event that can have long-term consequences. In order to make sure that you get what you deserve, you have to know your rights, know how to win your case, and not make any wrong moves that the insurance company can use against you. Having the right law firm behind you can give you the sure footing you need.
When Falling Down Stairs Can Be Eligible for Benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Law
Not every stair fall is created equal. Sometimes, it is chalked up to just being one of those things. To be eligible for workers’ comp benefits in this situation in Illinois, you need to be able to prove that the conditions of your employment created a risk to which the general public is not exposed.
The increased risk needs to be at least one of the following:
Qualitative: The fall was a result of some defect in the stairs, stair railings, or steps where you fell.
Quantitative: Being exposed to the risk of falling more frequently than the general public.
Let’s break that down a bit.
Qualitative Stair Falls
If Mark was working at a factory where he only sometimes had to go up and down stairs, that wouldn’t be enough if the stairs were in fine condition. But if they aren’t in good condition, and the bad (or dangerous) conditions is what caused the fall, then he has a case.
There’s a long list of “unsafe conditions” that could make an injured worker eligible. This list includes:
- Uneven stairs
- Loose floorboards
- Water on stairs
- Bad lighting
- Chemicals, oils, or other substances
- Bad hand railings
- Broken or damaged areas
- Missing treads
This is a far from comprehensive list. But even here, it can be tough to win your case. You will have to prove that you slipped as a result of that condition. So the problem has to be in the area where you slipped, and not, say, a few steps away. This is a tough case.
Quantitative Stair Falls
Alicia worked in a large industrial kitchen, and one of her jobs was to go downstairs to the industrial freezers to get more supplies. She went up and down the stairs probably dozens of times a day, often carrying something heavy.
This means that she is potentially eligible for workers compensation. After all, this was a repetitive part of her job, and the staircase therefore was a potential hazard. Again, though, it is really hard to prove a slip and fall case. Let’s look at why.
The Challenges in Winning Your Worker Compensation Case
A recent Illinois case dealt with this issue, in the case of Rebecca Williams v. County of Coles. Ms. Williams was a county court administrator, and she was directed by a judge and security officer to enter a courthouse at a certain entrance different than the one she normally used. They were holding the door for her, and she walked toward the entrance in a hurry, so as not to make them wait on her. While going up the stairs, she tripped and fell down the stairs, landing on her left side. Her left leg and hip were injured as a result.
She and her attorneys argued that her fall was caused by two factors:
- She was hurrying up the steps so that she would not delay the judge
- There was a defect in the stairs.
At the first stage of the case, the Arbitrator awarded her benefits. On review, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed the Arbitrator’s decision, the Circuit Court confirmed the Commission’s decision, and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed. She lost her case.
In the end, her attorneys failed to prove either factor in her argument. Hurrying up the steps to not delay the judge was not anything beyond her own choice to hurry. She presented pictures of the stairs which showed they had varying heights, but failed to present evidence that this caused her to fall. She also was not sure what caused her to fall, stating, “I lost my footing” and, “I tripped on something.”
She testified she thought she tripped on a step, but she was not able to identify the exact step. Without having more specifics, the court would have to speculate as to the cause of the fall. (A very important side note: The way minor details in this testimony hurt her case shows why an injured worker should NEVER give a recorded statement, as we discussed in this post: “I Was Injured at Work. What Things Should I NOT Do?“).
This was not my case, so I’m not going to judge it on the merits. But I will say that there is a chance she could have won, had she done things right the first time.
The Importance of Starting Your “Falling Down Stairs” Slip and Fall Case Right Away
Through no fault of her own, Ms. Williams got her workers’ compensation case off on the wrong foot, so to speak. Her recorded statement, when she was still hurting and at a heightened state, was used against her. She gave the insurance company ammunition to use against her.
And for the insurance company, that’s all they needed. They were able to pick apart her case, which was already going to be hard to win. In a tough case, they had all the tools required to win.
Cases involving falls at work are sometimes cut-and-dried, but rarely. It’s a fairly easy case for the insurance company to win, because of its specificity. That’s why it is hugely critical to hire experienced worker compensation attorneys right away. You want someone who not only knows all the tricks the insurance companies will use against you, but knows how to fight them.
You don’t think about stairs until something happens. But the insurance companies do. So you need someone who thinks about stairs, and how to win your case, just as much. It’s the only way to have, well, balance.