January 7, 2016- Richmond, VA
Richmond fire crews responded to an emergency call at the Upper Lofts at Canal Walk in Shockoe Bottom early Thursday morning, after a woman fell several floors through an electrical shaft.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the woman was trapped in a “V position” (with her hands and feet pointing upward) for over an hour before rescue crews were able to free her. The woman was alert and talking after being rescued, and she was taken to a hospital. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, she was in critical, but stable condition.
The woman (whose name has not yet been released) was not a resident of Canal Walk, but somehow gained access inside the front entrance. Witnesses speculate that a resident may have held the door open for her – a common way non-residents gain access to otherwise secure residential buildings.
Then, while on an upstairs floor, the woman appears to have made her way over a 4-foot rail and entered a tight compartmentalized area of the building reserved for water sprinkler piping and electrical wiring. A sign on the front of the entrance to the area warns of the electrical shaft inside.
While the doors leading to an electrical shaft are supposed to be locked, responding officers noticed several of the doors in the seven-story building were not. Upper Lofts at Canal Walk Management personnel are working to determine what led to the devastating fall.
It is no surprise that a fall of this nature resulted in serious injury. According to the National Floor Safety Institute, falls from elevation represent approximately 40% of compensable fall cases and approximately 10% of occupational fatalities.
Generally speaking, property owners in Virginia are responsible for ensuring safe premises through general upkeep and maintenance of the property. However, a landowner’s liability for injuries incurred on their property depends in great part on the legal classification of the injured person at the time of the injury – in other words, whether the injured person was a trespasser, licensee, or invitee.
In this case, it appears that the woman in question was not a resident of the Upper Lofts at Canal Walk and it is unclear whether she was the guest of a resident. Assuming she was not, the woman may be considered (for the purpose of personal injury liability) a trespasser – meaning that she was premises without any right or permission from the landowner.
Ordinarily, a trespasser cannot recover for injury because the landowner does not owe them a duty of care (aside from a duty not to injure the trespasser intentionally or wantonly). However, the circumstances surrounding “slip-and-fall” cases are often complex.