Premises Liability - Multiple Fractures Caused by Stair Collapse
Plaintiff was a 59-year-old businessman who was visiting a commercial building in downtown Boston. He was leaving the building on a back stairway. When he stepped on one of the landings, which was made of slate, the slate fractured, and he fell through the landing approximately 12 feet to the landing below. As a result of the landlord's negligence, he broke both ankles and his left shoulder, and had several lacerations from the broken slate floor which sliced him as he fell through and which also landed on top of him.
Investigation and discovery revealed that the negligent landlord had no inspection program for the property, including the aging stairway. The landlord failed to recognize that the multiple cracks in the landings and stairs were an obvious indication that the floor had structural problems. After the accident, the landlord replaced all of the landings and many of the steps on the stairway. Even after the repairs, the wear in the slate steps which remained was evident.
Plaintiff required multiple surgeries for his injuries, and was left with a permanent partial disability in one leg and his left arm. Plaintiff was self-employed, and was gradually able to return to work on a modified schedule.
Though liability was reasonably clear, the landlord vigorously denied liability and defended the case. Obviously, the plaintiff did nothing wrong; he was merely using a staircase that was open to the visiting public.
Multiple depositions of the landlord’s staff and maintenance personnel were taken. It became clear from the discovery that the stairs were open for use by visitors to the building. It was also clear that even though the stairs were cleaned by the staff regularly, nobody bothered to assess the stability or integrity of the stairway, which was at least 100 years old. The cracks in the slate were readily observable to the landlord’s staff, but they took no notice. Perhaps the most glaring evidence of negligence on the part of the landlord was that it had no system in place to check the integrity of the aging building.
The case was settled at mediation shortly before trial. The settlement also included payments to the injured plaintiff’s wife for her loss of consortium.
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