Careful on the stairs!

Handrails to Prevent Lawsuits

Several of the inns we serve are beautiful historic mansions. Many times the custom-built architecture from the past does not include a key component of inn safety – handrails on all of the steps. While this may seem like a small item, in the minds of insurance companies and ambulance-chasing attorneys, handrails are a key item that often determines the fate of an injury, insurance claim, or lawsuit.

Slips and falls are the most common injury sustained at an inn, whether by visitors, guests, or employees. Additionally, inns have more steps than a typical hotel and often attract older guests, who may be less able to navigate even level floors, let alone stairs and hallways with rugs.

Many of the slips and falls we see from our clients occur around steps. Therefore, a best practice for keeping steps safe is to make sure they have a non-slip surface and a handrail. Even if the stairs have only two or three steps or are located outdoors, handrails are still a non-negotiable. If someone slips and falls, and comes to you seeking compensation for their injuries or inconvenience, your insurance company will investigate to determine the extent of your responsibility (also known as liability).

In my opinion, if your insurance company finds out that you did not have an handrail on the steps in question, they will be less likely to fight the allegation of your negligence and more likely to settle the case with little negotiation. They know from experience that not having a handrail on stairs gives the injured party a distinct advantage. In our culture, a reasonable person would easily agree that a handrail would be needed on any stairs, giving the injured party a clear example of your “negligence” as an innkeeper.

The best way to prevent these injuries, or reduce their severity, is to make sure sturdy handrails are installed any time you have more than one step on your property. You can be creative about the aesthetic and material of the handrails, just make sure they are sturdy enough so that someone who slips is able to grab onto the rail and hopefully prevent a nasty fall.

While this may put another project on your busy schedule, know that it may be the single most important thing you do this month to make your inn safer and your future more free from the distraction of an injured guest.

James Dick, CPCU, AAI