Understanding Handrail and Guardrail Accidents

Categories: Personal Injury

Landowners in California must take reasonable steps to address conditions on their property that pose a danger to the public. What is considered “reasonable” will depend on the circumstances. Sometimes the danger must be removed altogether, such as cleaning up spilled liquid on a grocery store floor. Other times it will suffice to post a warning sign, like the ones we see near construction areas. When it comes to stairs and ledges, landowners may need to take a number of safety precautions, including, almost without exception, the installation of a proper safety railing.

The Three Purposes of a Safety Railing

Handrails and guardrails are designed to prevent (or reduce the likelihood of) slip and fall accidents. They do this in three ways:

  • Balance Aid. An appropriately located railing makes ascending and descending a staircase much safer. It provides an additional point of contact for maintaining balance. And unlike the other two points of contact (your feet touching the steps), sliding your hand along a staircase railing provides uninterrupted contact with a steady object.
  • Physical Barrier. Everyone enjoys a nice view. Here in Southern California, we have plenty of them. Sadly, we also have our share of tragedies involving sightseers falling to their death. Guardrails prevent falls from tall structures by acting as a restraint. Even on flat ground, a well-placed railing can prevent people, vehicles, and animals from entering areas that are unsafe.
  • Visual Cue. Common sense tells us that where there is a railing, there is the potential danger of falling down. The mere presence of a handrail sends a signal to “watch your step.” Furthermore, out on the roadway, a guardrail alerts motorists and bicyclists to sharp turns and steep cliffsides. Reflective tape or paint on the railing enhances this function.

Why Faulty Railings Are So Dangerous

Handrails and guardrails alter people’s behavior in a way that puts them at increased risk of harm should the railing fail structurally. Think about the last time you leaned against a balcony or deck railing. Would you have positioned yourself in this manner in the absence of the railing? Of course not. Consciously or not, we put a great deal of trust in safety railings, and when they malfunction, disaster can result.

Design Flaws Can Lead to Handrail and Guardrail Accidents

Structural failure is not the only way a safety railing can contribute to an accident. In fact, a railing may be in perfect working condition and be extremely dangerous nonetheless. The design of a railing – and how it comports to the railing’s location and use – is critical to its overall safety worthiness.

As personal injury lawyers, we often examine the design of a landowner’s railing after an accident by comparing it to the specifications contained in the California Building Code (code violations are strong evidence of negligence). Here are some of the design aspects the code regulates with respect to staircase handrails:

  • In what circumstances a railing is required, based on the number of risers (steps)
  • How far the railing must project from the wall
  • The distance between the railing and the stair nosing (the top of the front of the stair step)
  • The cross-sectional dimension of the handgrip portion of the railing
  • The gripping surface of the railing
  • The shape of the railing where it terminates on both ends
  • How many railings are required (one side, both sides, and any intermediate railings), based on the width of the staircase.

Discuss Your Accident with an Attorney

Determining why a safety railing failed, or whether it was designed correctly to begin with, can be a complex task. These cases also require immediate action to preserve evidence of the railing’s condition before the landowner makes any post-accident alterations. If you suspect a handrail or guardrail (or the absence of one) contributed to your injury, contact the attorneys at Neale & Fhima at (888) 568-5405 or submit the form below. We have offices throughout Southern California and we are available now.