Last December, a 22-year-old man reportedly walked into an elevator shaft when the elevator doors opened, assuming the elevator would be there, and fell onto the car that had stopped just a floor below him.
According to fire officials, he was rescued when the people inside the elevator heard him call for help. He suffered a fractured arm and facial trauma.
Elevator Accidents Across the U.S.
Chances are, if you live in the United States, you’ve been in an elevator at least once in the last month. Across the U.S., an estimated 900,000 elevators serve an average of 20,000 people per year, making roughly 18 billion passenger trips in a year’s time. These elevators are located in a variety of commercial, retail, and residential properties, with an average rise of 4 to 5 floors.
Types of Elevators
There are five primary types of elevators in existence and they vary in side and capacity. These types of elevators are:
- Limited Use/Limited Application (LULA),
- home, and
The type of elevator is completely dependent on its intended use, and will thus be engineered accordingly. Passenger elevators can be hydraulically-driven, with a maximum travel height of 50 feet, or traction-driven, for use in medium- and high-rise architecture that extends over 50 feet. Freight elevators are more durable and able to carry heavy loads. Because they have a primary purpose of lifting general freight, such as motor vehicles or industrial trucks, they tend to be like on aesthetics. A LULA elevator is meant to provide handicap accessibility to all individuals within multi-level buildings and are typically utilized by a small number of people on a light, as-needed basis. Home elevators provide convenience or accessibility within a home, and are typically used by people with limited mobility. Personnel elevators, typically found in commercial buildings, are designed for limited use either by maintenance, mechanical, or operations personnel.
Elevator Defects and Malfunction
Regardless of type of elevator or location, all elevators are can malfunction in dangerous and even fatal ways. Here are some types of defects that can occur:
- Pulley system malfunction. This mechanical breakdown or defect will cause an elevator to drop rapidly within the elevator shaft.
- Open shaft. Faulty doors or other failures create a risk of falling and fails to protect passengers from entry
- Faulty wiring, control malfunction, or risk of electrocution
- Incomplete repair, maintenance, or inspection by unqualified personnel
- Unbalanced leveling, which can cause an elevator to not line up correctly with the level of the floor
- Wiring malfunction or entrapment because of heat from fire or water from emergency sprinklers or hoses
Statistics of Failures
Though city and state governments tend to be diligent in ensuring annual public elevator inspections are carried out and reported properly by trained professionals, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is not required to regulate elevators as closely as automobiles or personal equipment. Because of this, elevators and elevator parts are not subject to federal accident inspections or parts recalls, and thus, there is little widely available printed information about elevator defects.
If an elevator or escalator product has been identified as having a design defect by the manufacturer, it’s only required that the manufacturer sends out a product letter to the equipment owners. Because of this, the press and general public rarely hear about faulty products, often after deaths or injuries have occurred.
Roughly 10,200 people per year experience injuries related to elevator use. The majority of those accidents are due to elevator door malfunction, carriage misalignment with floors, and passenger safety vulnerabilities.
According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, half of the annual elevator-related fatalities occur among repair or maintenance workers who are responsible for servicing elevators and people who use elevators in office buildings. Half of the fatalities among those two groups are the result of people falling into the shaft of the elevator. Among the occupational-related elevator group, 53% of fatalities occur during installation or repair, 17% occur during work in the shaft or car, and 30% occur during performance of work nearby the elevator.
For passengers using elevators in apartment buildings, close to half of the deaths were due to falls into the elevator shaft. The other half typically occurred when the victim was caught between the elevator and the shaft wall. Most of these incidents were caused by a wide variety of defects or malfunctions, including: defects in the wiring, pulley systems, door operations, and improper maintenance procedures.
When an elevator accident happens, there are several entities that can be held liable, including the following:
- the elevator manufacturer and seller
- any and all maintenance or repair companies that worked on the elevator, and
- the owner of the building where the elevator is located
Elevator Manufacturer and Seller
Manufacturers of elevators are always legally responsible for the quality of their products. This is true even if the product’s warranty has expired. A manufacturer’s liability for a defective product is generally called products liability law in most states.
Products liability law, which says that a manufacturer is liable for a defective product, covers three forms of product defects, including: design defects, manufacturing defects, and marketing defects (for example, negligent instructions and/or a failure to warn a purchaser about hidden dangers of the product).
Maintenance and Repair Companies
The maintenance and contractors who work to maintain an elevator can also be held liable for negligence if their carelessness contributed to an elevator accident.
Building owners are required to act reasonably in maintaining the grounds of a building, and all parts of a building, including any elevators that are in a building. That means a building owner can be found negligent if they fail to maintain the elevator. This means following a manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, and using a qualified maintenance company for maintenance and repairs.
Second, the building owner must repair a broken elevator. If the building owner knows or reasonably should have known that its elevator was in need of repair, it will generally be found negligent.
In cases where negligence has been determined, there are a number of lawsuits that can be brought.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit
A wrongful death lawsuit can be brought against someone who has caused another person’s death either through negligence or through intentional harm. Typically, a “wrongful death” claim is brought by the estate of the deceased on behalf of surviving members and other affected parties. The suit is filed against the party they allege is liable for the death.
Proving a Wrongful Death Claim
For the defendant to be declared liable in a wrongful death claim, the claim brought must meet the same burden of proof that the victim would have had to meet if the victim was alive. In the case of a negligence trial, plaintiffs must show the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim, that the defendant breached this duty of care, and that the breach of this duty directly caused the death of the victim.
Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case
If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one that resulted from the negligence or misconduct of another, allow the attorneys at Personal Injury Attorneys PLLC to educate you about your rights and to assist you in filing a wrongful death claim. You, the distributee, may seek monetary damages and compensation over the financial and/or emotional loss of your loved one. Wrongful death claims are time sensitive, so it is imperative that you contact a wrongful death attorney immediately if you have recently lost a loved one from the negligence or misconduct of another.
Different Factors of a Wrongful Death Case
Based on your relationship to the deceased, as well as other factors, you may be entitled to certain benefits and compensations. Whether you are the surviving spouse, children or parents, you may recover the loss of the decedent’s financial and emotional support as well as for your own emotional pain and suffering.
Based on the evidence of your wrongful death case, the court may also impose punitive damages on the defendant that are appropriate to their reckless, intentional and/or negligent behavior.
Working with a Personal Injury Attorney After an Accident
If you or a loved one have been an victim of an elevator accident, you should immediately contact a personal injury attorney that understands the specific laws around these types of accidents. They will be able to perform a full investigation and build your case. It’s crucial that you work with someone that knows the intricacies of the laws surrounding these types of cases as well as your specific state’s laws. The attorneys at Personal Injury Attorneys PLLC have experience handling personal injury cases such as elevator accidents. They will help build a case to ensure you receive everything you need to recover from your specific accident.