Falls On Stairs: A Common Cause of Serious Brain Injuries In Children

childrenA recent study by the medical journal, Pediatrics, shows that while stair related injuries to children are declining, they are still a significant problem. Over 93,000 children go to emergency rooms annually for injuries related to falls on stairways. According to Dr. Gary Smith, director of Nationwide Childrens Hospital’s Center for Injury Research and Policy, the numbers are still way too high. He says, “…the wake up call is that we’re still seeing a child less than 5 years old injured every six minutes. To me that means we have a lot more work to do.”

The study showed that broken arms and legs were common. However, these types of injures were way outnumbered by the number of head and neck injuries. Brain injuries and neck injuries accounted for 76% of the emergency room visits reported. These types of injuries can result in brain bleeding or bruising which can lead to permanent problems for the child.

As an Alameda personal injury lawyer, I often get calls from parents whose children have been injured while at day care or while other care takers have had custody of the child. Of course, care takers and other providers can be legally liable for personal injuries to children if the injuries were caused by poor supervision or other negligence. However, sometimes, even with the best of care, children can be injured on stairs when a parent or care taker is momentarily distracted by other tasks. Therefore, a good way to help prevent these injuries to children is to provide a safe environment as well.

Dr. Smith strongly recommends the use of stairway gates at homes where young children live or frequently visit. The children have good mobility and a sense of curiosity, but do not appreciate the danger of the stairway. Dr. Estevan Garcia, of the Maimondies Medical Center in New York City, recommends gates at both the top and bottom of the stairs. He warns parents and caretakers, “A lot of people forget that if a kid can get up, they can come down.”

Kids Health has these recommendations to help prevent stairway injuries to children:

  • Never leave a child unattended around stairs–even if gated. Babies can climb up and over the gates. Consider also gating the children’s bedroom to prevent the child from even reaching the stairs.
  • Keep Stairways clear of toys, shoes, and other objects.
  • The gates which are installed at the top and bottom of the stairs should be hardware mounted safety gates, as opposed to pressure mounted gates.
  • Avoid accordion gates, which can trap a child’s head.
  • Teach your toddler how to go down stairs on their bottoms.

Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury for our children. The severity of fall related injuries is determined by the distance of the fall and the character of the landing surface. Children under the age of ten have a high degree of curiosity coupled with poorly developed motor skills. Therefore, they are at the greatest risk for serious brain injuries and spinal cord injuries resulting from stairway falls. By providing proper supervision, and a safer environment for our children, we can greatly reduce the risk of these types of serious injuries.


Household Safety, Kidshealth.com
Stair-Related Injuries to Young Children Treated in US Emergency Departments, 1999-2008, Pediatrics, 2012

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