On Friday, September 12th, a building superintendent fell to his death in an elevator shaft. Apparently, the superintendent left his manually operated elevator on the fifth floor. He left open the elevator gate. Later, as he tried to step-back into the car, the elevator cab was not there, and he plunged to his death. The New York Times, Sept. 14, 2008, p. 41.
It appears that the elevator had a faulty switch which should have prevented the elevator cab from moving as long as the elevator gate was open. Also, the manual run lever failed to stay in neutral which allowed the cab to move without an operator.
Building owners have the non-delegable duty to maintain elevators in sound condition. Typically, landlords do not have the technical expertise to maintain and repair elevators, therefore, 99% of owners hire an elevator service company for regular maintenance and repairs. For example, a landlord would enter a service contract with an elevator company, such as Otis. The elevator company would provide regular maintenance visits, anywhere from monthly to every three or four months. The elevator company would also be under contract to respond on an emergency basis when the elevator malfunctions.
Since landlords usually hire elevator service companies, the elevator company is the target defendant in a lawsuit.
Elevator cases can be difficult to prove. The injured party must prove that the building or elevator service company had prior notice of the dangerous condition. In other words, plaintiff must show that defendants either knew of the problem or should have known of the problem if they had made regular inspections. Many times we have have had to hire an elevator expert to prove negligence.
For example, a person trips on exiting the elevator due to a mis-leveling of the elevator to the building floor. Plaintiff must show that either the building or the elevator company had “prior notice” of this problem. This can be done with other, similar accidents at the same elevator, tenant complaints, and the landlord’s complaints to the elevator company that there was a problem. All of these things must occur before the client had his accident.
There are other instances where the accident in itself proves negligence. For example, if the elevator were to drop twenty stories to the basement, this extraordinary occurrence may be sufficient proof of negligence.
We have handled many elevator cases in residential and commercial buildings. If you have been involved in an elevator accident, please feel free to call us at 800-581-1434.
Mark E. Seitelman, 9/14/08, www.seitelman.com.