What You Need to Know If You’re in an Elevator Accident

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Elevator accidents are one of the rarest forms of accidental death, causing fewer than 30 deaths across the nation each year. For this reason, it makes sense that elevators are commonly referred to as “the safest form of transportation.” In this article we’ll talk about if that’s really true, and what you should do if you’re in an elevator accident.

Phoenix Elevator Accident

In December 2011, a Phoenix woman broke her right ankle, and also her left, when the elevator she had just entered into dropped three levels suddenly. As soon as she had activated the second floor cab call she heard a loud noise. It was then that the elevator dropped. According to eyewitness accounts and emergency officials, it seemed as if the elevator’s hydraulic system had failed. Officials suspect that the loud noise she heard was the sound of the hydraulic piping, fitting, or valve failing.

According to records, the elevator was a three-story Otis hydraulic elevator with a 2500 lb., 16 passenger capacity and a rated speed of 115 feet per minute. This specific hydraulic elevator was made during a year that would not have required the elevator to be equipped with a plunger gripper, which according to the ASME A17.1a-2002, Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators, is “a mechanical device attached to a supporting structure in the pit, which stops and holds the car by gripping the plunger.” The basic function of this piece is for the prevention of these types of falling incidents. It’s estimated that had a plunger gripper been required for this elevator, the victim most likely would not have suffered injury.

Fear and Panic in Trapped Elevator

Brian Davidson from New Jersey, knows exactly what happens when you are stuck in an elevator and it suddenly jerks and stops. The 52-year-old school administrator was riding shoulder-to-shoulder with 34 other jurors at a Trenton courthouse when the elevator was suddenly stuck between the third and fourth floors. “Even the guard who was escorting us didn’t know what to do,” said Davidson.

Making the situation worse was the fact that the jurors had been told, “for safety reasons,” not to bring their cellphones with them.

“People started to panic, and when one person called for help, she literally picked up the emergency receiver and the cord was hanging,” he said. “It wasn’t connected.

“It was amazing how quickly the fear spread, and people were definitely breathing heavily and you could hear the tension rising in their voices,” he said. “I was doing my best to stretch my head above the crowd to stay calm. But you could feel the fear.”

Such events give rise to a number of phobias: including claustrophobia and “situational” phobia (fear of a specific situation), even when elevators work properly.

“Situational” Phobia with Riding in Elevators

According to Dr. Todd Farchione, director of the intensive treatment program at the Center for Anxiety-Related Disorders at Boston University, roughly 8 percent of the U.S. population (about 25 million Americans) suffer from phobias, and 2 percent of the U.S. population have a “situational” phobia — which can include anything from riding in an elevator to flying in an airplane.

Still, according to experts, most people do not develop phobias after one traumatic event.

“Phobias, in general, are an irrational fear of a situation or object,” said Farchione. “And it has to be interfering in a person’s life and distressing to the individual separate from standard fears.”

Still, he does not dismiss the idea that trauma can happen after one traumatic event.  “We learn to be afraid of things,” he said. “You are bit by a dog and associate the pain and fear with the dog. Some develop phobia without trauma. You see someone else afraid of something, like an image of a housewife on a table when a mouse is in the room. You might develop a fear of mice.”

Development of Phobias

But being “bombarded” with information can also cause people to develop phobias. “The story about the elevator trapping and killing someone is such a rare event, but what we see is sensational,” said Farcione about an elevator accident that had recently happened. “You can inflate the likelihood of those things happening.”

Phobias present themselves as panic attacks, as Davidson described when he was trapped in a crowded elevator.

Farchione said the “fear reaction is accompanied by physical feelings like sweating, rapid heart rate, shakiness, feeling out of body and light-headed. It’s primarily driven by how we breathe in the rush of fear.”

Safe Elevator Riding

According to Charles A. Buckman, a North Carolina-based elevator consultant and expert, people shouldn’t be afraid to ride in elevators because they are extremely safe.

“Riding in an elevator is safer than riding in a New York cab, for example,” Buckman said. “Elevators are the safest mode of transportation in the country, without exception.”

Though elevator accidents that result in death are rare - again, about 30 a year - according to ConsumerWatch.com injuries from elevator accidents affect about 10,200 people a year. The LA Times calculated elevators across the nation make about 18 billion trips a year. According to that the fatality rate of elevator accidents works out to be 0.00000015 percent per trip.

Safe Transportation

Life’s Little Mysteries explained why elevators are actually very safe:

“A 2009 report by Occupational Health & Safety attributes the rarity of elevator fatalities to ‘intricate, redundant, and regulated safety features built into every elevator.’ Elevators typically have four to eight times as many cables holding them up than they actually need, and they also have automatic braking systems near the top and bottom of the shaft, backed up by electromagnetic brakes. Finally, “at the bottom of the shaft is a heavy-duty shock absorber system designed to save passengers if all else fails.”

Safe to hold open elevator doors?

According to Buckman, in short, yes, because modern elevators are built to have their doors held open.

What happens if the weight or people limit is reached in an elevator?

According to Buckman, the elevator quotas are simply a “general guesstimation of how many people should be on the elevator.” It’s actually more of an issue of how many people can comfortably fit in the elevator, versus possible risk that comes from squeezing in an extra couple of people in the car.

What should you do if an elevator gets stuck?

According to National Elevators Industry Inc., do not try to climb out of the elevator. Buckman advises that you use the emergency phone or call button installed in every elevator car to ask for help. then follow any instructions you are given. Even older elevators should be equipped with an emergency call button or phone.

National Elevators Industry Inc. recommends staying calm. Do not panic that there will be lack of air -  there is plenty of air in the car to breathe.

Is jumping in an elevator dangerous?

Nothing “would happen as a consequence of jumping,” Buckman said.

How often are elevators actually inspected?

Buckman said that for most parts of the country, elevators are inspected every year as part of conformance to the national elevator safety code. You should be able to find an inspection notice or certificate in every elevator that proves the elevator has been inspected.

Often Injured in Elevator Accidents

Often those who are injured in elevator accidents are mechanics and other elevator personnel who face hazards that the general public does not. These types of accidents are often due to installation errors, inadequate maintenance, or even flaws in manufacturing. There are many potential parties that can be held at-fault due to negligence.

Regulations for elevator safety are controlled by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), a global engineering community.  ASME codes and standards provide a foundation for advancing safety in elevators and other mechanisms in the United States.

Elevators in Arizona are required to pass an inspection yearly to ensure the safety of those riding on them. The same rules of safety apply to new elevators, which must be inspected by officials once they are installed. If any elevator is altered, another inspection must be done to ensure it is safe to ride in.

Working with a Personal Injury Attorney

If you have been a victim in an elevator accident, you should immediately contact a personal injury attorney that understands the specific laws around elevator 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 catastrophic personal injury cases, including cases concerning elevator accidents in Arizona.

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