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Escalator and Elevator Accidents: A Lurking Danger

Riding elevators and escalators are such an integral part of a New Yorker’s daily life, it comes as second nature. There are approximately 60,000 elevators and more than 2,000 escalators throughout the City. Too often the complexities involved in properly servicing them are taken for granted; until an accident occurs.

Although not extremely common, mechanical failures do occur, leading to serious injuries or death. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC,) approximately 30 people are killed and 17,000 people are seriously injured in elevator and escalators accidents each year, and per government statistics, New York City leads the nation.

In January 2012, an escalator maintenance company settled out of court, (for an undisclosed amount,) regarding the horrific escalator accident at the old Giants Stadium. Witnesses reported that the escalator sped up and then stopped suddenly, sending riders to the bottom. One victim reported that the escalator step broke apart and swallowed his leg as it sped toward the bottom. His leg eventually had to be amputated below the knee, and another victim has had multiple leg surgeries and is still at risk of losing his foot.

Also within the year, a 41-year-old advertising executive in a Midtown Manhattan building tragically lost her life in an elevator accident. According the New York Times, the woman stepped into the elevator when it suddenly lurched up, dragging and pinning her between the elevator and wall. WABC New York reported that elevator maintenance workers performed electrical work on the elevator just hours before the accident.

The last year has seen an increased focus on escalator and elevator safety. FOX 5 News released a story about an on-going investigation into out-of-service elevators and escalators in Manhattan subway stations. It was reported that approximately 1 out of every 11 transit authority escalators are not working. The City entered into agreements with private contractors however; that project was stopped due to construction projects taking precedence over elevator and escalator repairs.

The most common cause of elevator accidents stems from improper maintenance procedures or mechanical malfunctions. Almost half of the deaths of non-work related elevator injuries were due to falls down the elevator shaft, and the other half occurred as a result of being caught in-between the elevator door and shaft. Serious injuries can also result from tripping or falling as a result of a malfunction, such as the mislabeling of the elevator car or when the escalator speeds up or stops suddenly.

Under New York premises liability law, a building owner has the duty to maintain his building in a reasonably safe condition, which includes the elevators and escalators within the building. Due to the complex nature in repairing and maintaining elevator and escalator machinery, the building owner most likely has a contractual relationship with either the manufacturer, installer or maintenance company. This premises liability law also applies to multiple dwelling (apartment) buildings as codified by Section 78 of the New York Multiple Dwelling Law.

Elevator and escalator accidents are unique and not typical of premises liability cases; a latent defect in the mechanical elements of the machinery may be the dangerous condition causing the accident. Therefore, the first consideration in a elevator or escalator-related accident is determining which parties may be found liable (or negligent) for the accident. In certain situations, liability may rest with both the building owner and the maintenance company, or in other situations, liability may only rest with the manufacturer or only with the building owner.

In the Giants Stadium escalator case, although a monetary settlement was reached with the building owner, the New York Sports and Expo Authority (NYSEA) who operated the stadium at the time of the accident, is still in litigation regarding their liability for the accident. The attorneys for the accident victims claim that NYSEA knew the escalator could suddenly speed up and stop when overloaded, but did nothing to remedy the situation.

Due to the special knowledge required in elevator and escalator accidents, seeking out an experienced attorney is of paramount importance. Only an attorney who is experienced in these matters will be able to identify the responsible parties and retain the proper expert to determine the cause of the elevator or escalator failure. Only a seasoned attorney, experienced in New York’s premises liability and person injury law can successfully guide the injured accident victim through the legal process and obtain the maximum recovery for pain, suffering or death, unpaid medical or hospital expenses, and any lost income resulting from the accident.

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