Recently, the role of injury biomechanics in premise accidents has come under the public’s attention due to the release of the documentary series, “The Staircase” on Netflix. The subject of The Staircase is the 2001 death of Kathleen Peterson, who was found deceased at the bottom of the stairs in the North Carolina house she shared with her husband, novelist Michael Peterson.
The purpose of this blog is not to focus on the details of the Peterson case, but to instead discuss how an Injury Biomechanics expert can help in staircase accidents.
When someone falls “unwitnessed” on a staircase, some important initial questions are:
Was the person ascending or descending the stairs?
Was there a “misstep”, “trip”, “slip” or something “other” that caused the fall?
There are many different mechanisms for why one might fall on a staircase, including the possibility of a slip, trip or mis-step. While to the layperson, these mechanisms may all sound the same, the reality is that different mechanisms will result in different fall-dynamics. For example, consider walking on level ground and tripping on an obstacle. This will typically cause your body to fall forward. However, when walking on an icy surface, a slip will often cause you to fall backwards, due to the lower friction when you initially apply pressure against the ground at foot-contact.
It is also necessary to determine whether the stairs had any anomalies or were built to code. A stair (rise) that is too high could become a tripping hazard during ascent, while a stair (run) that is too short could pose a mis-step hazard. Furthermore, handrail misplacement and poor grasp ability must be examined.
Of course these are only a small sampling of the type of questions that need to be asked in a staircase accident, but the point is, no two staircase falls are going to be the same. Accordingly, Injury Biomechanics experts can apply their understanding of anatomy, human kinetics and physics to any staircase accident to make clear the fall mechanism and determine injury causation.
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