Stepwell and Handrail Design

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To a limited degree, the bottom of the stepwell, at least, is a function of the type of door the vehicle contains: plug, jackknife, bi-fold or pantographic. Some inward-opening jackknife doors require a cut-out in the bottom and sometimes second step, and result in the steps not only being different sizes, but of different shapes. Regardless, passengers (particularly of the eggshell variety) are not safe cha-chaing down a series of irregular and different trapezoids — particularly when they cannot get their entire foot on one side of the step tread. Sometimes such disparities are further compromised when the riser heights are uneven — as is the case with a number of minibus conversions. Most dangerous of all are the spiral stepwells offered by one motorcoach manufacturer and a handful of minibus converters of truck chassis or cab-and-chassis configurations.

The foil for all this is any stairwell in or outside any building you have been in or walked up the steps to enter: Other than huge public buildings (like courthouses), every exterior staircase, and without exception, every interior staircase, has a linear handrail on each side of it, lying at a 45-degree angle, and positioned roughly 30 inches or slightly less above the imaginary line drawn through the outer edges of the steps. As encouragement to any and every plaintiff's counsel, you will not find such a stepwell on any bus on an American street, even if it is made elsewhere. (Many buses and coaches manufactured in Europe, South America and the Far East have safety features that seem at least 15 years more advanced than those they provided in the same vehicles they sell to the U.S. market.) Instead, climbing or descending many buses' or coaches' stepwells is the task of an acrobat, gymnast or ballerina. Elderly, disabled, obese passengers and children beware.

All this said, the dysfunctional qualities of the steps barely compare to the reckless and thoughtless qualities of the almost always discontinuous handrails, which are usually different on each side of the stepwell. Many are not even reachable from the floor level — making alighting an adventure until the passenger descends from the floor to a step where he or she can begin to reach the handrail. Having attended perhaps 100 trade shows, I have only seen a single bus that managed to weave a handrail around the vertical pole of a pantographic door — the pole being the lure for a boarding passenger to use as a handrail, and when such a door closed prematurely on a passenger I helped to represent, it twisted both her wrists around to perfectly lock the outside of her elbows into a position where the closing door could break both of them.

When passengers fall up or down stepwells, or incur any other boarding or alighting problem, one must examine the stepwell very closely, with not only a sharp eye, but a knowledgeable one. Defendants must beware of any juror who has ever seen King Kong or has visited a 5000-year-old building with a safer staircase then a modern bus. The problem usually is that defendant's counsel has only so many strikes, and that such jurors are unlikely to exist.