The plaintiff, a 27-year-old wife and mother of two young children, was visiting her sister-in-law’s rented home with her family. During their visit, the plaintiff and her family used an exterior wooden stairway to gain access to the nearby lake for swimming and boating. When the plaintiff stepped on the first step of the stairway, the tread suddenly collapsed, causing injury to her foot. Her husband, who was nearby, assisted her to the car and drove her to a local hospital for emergency medical treatment.
The plaintiff was initially diagnosed with an ankle sprain, but when she returned to her home in Nebraska, she was re-evaluated and later diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture. Weeks later, the plaintiff continued to experience severe pain and underwent evaluation for nerve damage. She was ultimately diagnosed with peroneal and sural nerve entrapment and required surgeries to decompress the nerves. The plaintiff was left with residual nerve pain and continues to require daily medication to manage her symptoms.
The plaintiff filed a claim for personal injuries against the owner of the property, predicated on the owner’s failure to maintain the subject property in reasonably safe condition. The defendant, an elderly woman, had lived in a nearby home since the 1950’s. In addition to the subject property, she owned several other parcels of property on the same road, which housed numerous family members and friends.
The plaintiff contended that the subject stairway created an unreasonably dangerous condition on the premises, evidenced by the extent of wood rot present on the stairs on that date the tread collapsed; the complete absence of handrails on the stairway; and the lack of uniform tread and riser height existing on the stairway. The plaintiff further argued that had periodic inspections of the property been conducted, they would have revealed the defective condition of the stairway and prompted repairs that would have prevented the stairs’ collapse.
The defendant testified at her deposition that she could not recall the last time that she had visited the subject property to perform an inspection for potential defects or areas of disrepair. The defendant contended that the stairway was constructed prior to the enactment of the Massachusetts Building Code, and was therefore not required to conform to same, and that any evidence of wood rot would not have been apparent to a person inspecting the premises.
The case resolved following a full day of mediation prior to trial.
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