ELEVATOR ACCIDENTS ARE RARE, BUT CAN BE DEVASTATING
July 29th, 2019 | Joseph A. Quinn, Jr.
There are an estimated 900,000 elevators in the United States. Combined, they make 18 billion passenger trips each year, traveling 1.36 billion miles during that year.
Considering how often they are used elevator accidents are relatively rare. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) attributes this to "intricate, redundant and regulated safety features built into every elevator.” Today’s elevators typically have four to eight times as many cables holding them up than are actually need, as well as automatic braking systems and electromagnetic brakes.
Still, accidents do happen. People make mistakes. Parts fail. HKQ Law Personal Injury Attorney Joseph A. Quinn, Jr. points out that “the physics and forces involved in the operation of elevators can lead to catastrophic accidents.” Incidents involving elevators claim an average of 29 lives and seriously injure over 10,000 people each year in the United States.
Elevator accident injuries include:
- Broken bones
- Crush injuries
- Head and neck injuries
- Spinal cord and back injuries
- Lower limb injuries
- Severed limbs
These injuries can result in enormous medical expenses as well as the loss of wages, and sometimes, even death.
Types / Causes of Elevator Accidents
This condition refers to the failure of an elevator car to stop level with the floor when coming to a halt. The elevator car should be within a half-inch of the floor when the doors open. Misleveling often cause trips, which have the potential to cause serious injuries. Leveling is affected by a number of factors including the condition of system components, overloading of the elevator and voltage fluctuations.
The most common elevator injury is someone being struck by a closing elevator door. These incidents occur on passenger elevators with both car and hallway doors of the sliding type, typically when someone is entering the elevator. Causes of door strikes include inoperative or malfunctioning door protection devices, as well as improperly adjusted door closing force and speed. Excessive closing force or speed can result in crushing injuries to the limbs.
ABRUPT STOPS / RAPID MOVEMENTS
Incidents involving a sudden stop or rapid movements of the elevator car often cause riders to fall or collide with other riders or the walls of the elevator car. Typical injuries, which can be severe, include those to the lumbar or cervical spine, ankles, knees and other body parts that are compressed. Abrupt stops can result from a number of occurrences from power failures to hoistway collisions between the car and counterweight. There are several mechanical issues that can cause a rapidly descending elevator car. One of the most common is a pulley system malfunction. ”Ascending car overspeed” results when power or equipment failure releases the car, and the counterweight falls and pulls it up the shaft at high speed.
FALLS INTO THE ELEVATOR SHAFT
About half of the elevator fatalities occur as the result of a fall into the elevator shaft. Elevator maintenance workers are especially vulnerable to falls. The primary causes of these incidents include inoperable or defective door interlocks, exiting stalled elevators when they are more than three feet above a landing, removing passengers from a stalled elevator by untrained personnel and “elevator surfing”.
Being stuck on an elevator can be stressful, particularly for those with claustrophobia. Entrapment may lead to physical injuries – even fatalities – for passengers attempting to escape without the assistance of trained emergency responders. In the case of entrapment, recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress often requires that the plaintiff suffer a physical injury as well.
Faulty wiring could make elevator occupants vulnerable to shock injuries. An example of one such hazard is an ungrounded push button in the car. It is elevator maintenance workers, however, who are at a much higher risk for electrocution or shock injuries due to improper wiring performed by the elevator contractor or outside electricians. The workers’ duties can also put them in close proximity to areas of high voltage.
Who is legally responsible?
In an elevator accident case, there may be several potential defendants, including the:
- Building owner
- Elevator manufacturer
- Elevator installer
- Elevator repair / maintenance companies
- Elevator inspector
- Parts manufacturer
- Employer (of injured elevator maintenance worker)
Elevator accident lawsuits are typically based on negligence/premises liability. In Pennsylvania the duty of an owner of an elevator to its passengers is similar to that of a common carrier. Such owners are held to “the highest degree of care in the construction, maintenance and operation of its elevator in protecting from danger persons carried thereon.” In a 1980 case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that “The strict standard makes the inference of negligence easier to draw because as the precautions that one must undertake to avoid injury increase, the probability of carelessness also increases.
If you or a loved has suffered a serious injury as the result of an elevator accident and someone else’s negligence, call (800) 760-1529 to speak with one of HKQ Law’s personal injury attorneys.