Slip, Trip, Fall and the ADA

February 9, 2010

If you search the web for the keywords in the title of this post, you will find several articles linking accessibility with safety.  But is it appropriate to use the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in negligence per se arguments in personal injury litigation?

The purpose of the ADA is: “to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” (Title 42, Ch 126, Sec 12101 (b)(2).  The ADA is concerned with eliminating discrimination, not with eliminating slip, trip and falls.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) has requirements for changes in level, slope, gratings and surface textures along accessible routes, it does not specifically address safety nor does it regulate all potential walking surfaces.  To prove negligence per se, one must argue that the ADA was designed to prevent the kind of harm that was caused.  This may be a tenuous argument if the injured party did not have a disability or was not on the accessible route, but if a person was injured on a ramp with an excessive slope, there may be some merit to the argument.

What about slip resistance? Section 302.1 of the 2004 ADAAG states that the accessible “Floor and ground surfaces shall be stable, firm, and slip resistant…,” but there is no technical requirement given for what constitutes a slip-resistant surface.  The 1991 ADAAG included an appendix note that recommended a static coefficient of friction of 0.6 for accessible routes and 0.8 for ramps but this was only a recommendation and not a technical requirement.  The recommended coefficient of friction is conspicuously absent from the 2004 ADAAG and has been replaced with an advisory note that states, “A slip-resistant surface provides sufficient frictional counterforce to the forces exerted in walking to permit safe ambulation.”

The purpose of the slip resistance requirement is to make accessible routes more usable and safer for individuals with disabilities using the routes under normal conditions. This requirement does not take into account all of the various conditions that could cause a fall.  The requirement is not there to protect users from a hurried pace, inattention or inappropriate foot wear.