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Proper lighting is important for public safety, which may seem obvious to some: after all, it’s hard to avoid safety hazards if it’s too dark to see them. Even so, many property owners — both residential and commercial — are unaware of their duty to keep their properties sufficiently lit.

Slip or trip and falls are the most common type of accident that results from poor lighting. People are more likely to misjudge distances, shapes, and sizes in the dark. Without the power of sight, hazards like cracks in sidewalks, slippery wet floors, potholes in parking lots, and steps go unnoticed. If one of these hazards causes someone to trip and fall onto a concrete sidewalk or tiled floor, serious injuries can result. On top of that, people are less likely to spot something in the dark that they can grab to break their fall, increasing the likelihood of hitting the ground even harder.

Some types of injury associated with slip/trip and fall accidents include:

  • Abrasions and cuts
  • Broken and fractured bones
  • Soft tissue injuries (e.g., sprains, tendon and ligament tears)
  • Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries

Though it is possible to fall and get injured through your carelessness, a majority of falls are preventable, and inadequate lighting makes them much more likely to occur. While it is common knowledge that proper lighting promotes safety, however, it is rare to find local governments with regulations outlining the type of lighting property owners should provide. Even though some community-level initiatives have focused on raising awareness about the need for lighting regulations, there is an alarming lack of overall governmental regulation regarding hazardous, neglectful, and unsafe lighting.

With that being said, both home and commercial property owners have a duty to provide and maintain adequate lighting on their premises to reduce the risk of injury to those visiting the property. Inadequate lighting can stem from a number of situations, such as a failure to replace burned out bulbs, lowering or shutting off lights before customers leave a building, or failing to install adequate lighting altogether.

An injury caused by inadequate lighting subjects the owner of the property to legal liability for the injury. In our practice, we have handled many cases where serious injuries were caused when a pedestrian was unable to see a tripping hazard due to poor lighting.

How Do Eyes Adjust to Changing Brightness Levels?

Even less spoken of are the dangers associated with rapidly changing lighting conditions: that is, going from a very dark to a very bright area or vice versa. If someone goes from inside a dimly lit movie theater to the bright outdoors, it can feel temporarily blinding, which goes away as a process called “dark adaptation” occurs, which allows eyes to adjust to lighting gradually and become aware of their surroundings. Eyes use two different types of cells, rods and cones, to see light. Cones perceive fine detail and colors but need bright light to be able to do so. Rods only see black and white but can see even in extremely dim lighting conditions. Eyes adapt much quicker to bright lights than to darkness because cones attain maximum light sensitivity much quicker than rods.

In older individuals, who may already be at an increased risk for injury, darkness adaptation takes even longer and is not as strong. Bright, harsh lighting can also cause eye damage, eye strain, blurry or loss of vision, and headaches in people of all ages. To minimize these risks, it is best for property owners to avoid using sharply contrasting lighting if possible. In situations where it is unavoidable, such as at the movie theater, other preventative safety features like handrails can be put in place.

The Takeaway Message

So as a property owner, recognize that your duty to provide a reasonably safe premise for your visitors and guests includes providing adequate lighting. That includes exercising some foresight regarding sudden changes in the brightness level of an area to prevent injuries caused by momentary blindness or eye damage.

As a pedestrian, avoid dark or poorly lit areas whenever possible and give your eyes the brief time needed when moving from light to dark or vice-versa. As I have said many times, most accidents and injuries can be avoided by each of us exercising some common sense under the circumstances.  

If you or a loved one was injured on someone else’s property, call us at 703-836-3366, email tcurcio@curciolaw.com, or visit us at curciolaw.com and we will follow up with you right away to discuss your legal options.

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