Getting a Recovery for Injuries from an Elevator Malfunction; Proving the Case against NYCHA through the City’s Own Inspection


The New York Times reported that the August 19th elevator death of a young boy was caused by neglect by the New York City Housing Authority at 70 Clymer Street, Brooklyn, New York.

This young man’s death spurred elected leaders and The Times to expose the deplorable conditions of elevators in the City’s public housing.

   Jacob Neuman, age 5, died due to an elevator malfunction in his NYCHA building.  He and his brother, Israel, age 8, left their 11th floor apartment in Williamsburgh.  They were going to school, but they did not go far.  The elevator got stuck between the 11th and 10th floors.  The elevator system malfunctioned in that the door of the elevator cab opened.  The boys were able to open manually the second door on the 10th floor.   Jacob jumped to the 10th floor, but when he landed on the 10th floor he fell backwards into the elevator shaft and fell 120 feet to his death.

According to an investigation by the City’s Buildings Department, both the power shutdown and the opening of the cab door were caused by poor maintenance, specifically the misalignment and wear and tear of electrical contacts in the motor room control panel.  Checking wear and tear on the electrical contacts and replacing worn-out ones should have been part of the elevator’s routine maintenance. 

His death could have been prevented had the elevators been equipped with a relatively inexpensive safety device, a door or zone restrictor.  This prevents people trapped inside stuck elevators from opening the cab doors to escape.  The devices lock the cab door when an elevator is not level with a floor landing.  The elevator in Jacob’s death did not have a door restrictor because such were not required at the time that the elevator was installed in 1986.  However, restrictors are now required on all new elevators.

In order to prove an elevator case the injured party must show that the building owner either had “actual notice” of the defect or “constructive notice” of the problem.  In this case, it appears that Jacob’s family will be able to prove that NYCHA had “constructive notice” of the problem in that it could have found and fixed the problem if it can conducted reasonable maintenance.

We have handled many elevator cases.  If you have been injured in an elevator, please call me at 800-581-1434 for a free consultation.

Mark E. Seitelman, 12/2/08, www.seitelman.com.

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