How often does an elevator and escalator accident really happen? More often than you would think.
According to the National Elevator Industry’s fun fact sheet, there are 900,000 elevators and 35,000 escalators in the United States. Collectively, these conveyances make 123 billion trips each year to bring their passengers from one point to another. And, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are an average of 24,000 injuries treated in hospitals each year related to elevators or escalators.
How Personal Injury Law Applies To Elevator And Escalator Accidents
In 20 states, including California and Illinois, elevators and escalators have been ruled in the courts as “common carriers.” As such, the owner and/or operator of an elevator or escalator has a higher standard of safety and care than an ordinary person. The operator of a common carrier conveyance must ensure their vehicles are safe and fit for the purpose for which they are used. They can be held financially responsible (“liable“) to passengers who have been injured by even the slightest amount of carelessness (“negligence“).
Even in many states that have not ruled elevators and escalators as common carriers, courts have still upheld that operators of these conveyances have a higher than ordinary duty of care. In some states, this duty can be delegated to the owner of the property where the elevator or escalator exists; meaning the property owner may bear some liability for passenger injuries. In other states, this duty is not delegable; meaning the company responsible for servicing and maintaining the elevator or escalator is solely liable. So, if you are injured in an elevator or escalator accident, the liable party may depend on the state in which it happened.
It is important to understand that common carriers are not, however, insurers of their passengers’ safety. An “insurer” of a person’s safety is liable for all injuries and deaths arising from its acts or neglect, even though it was not negligent in any way; it is a guarantee that the person will not be hurt, regardless of the cause of those injuries. In cases against common carriers such as elevators and escalators, it is still necessary to prove that the owner/operator was negligent in some manner, even though the slightest carelessness is enough to impose liability.
People in the process of entering or exiting an elevator car or escalator are considered passengers, even though they may not be physically in or on the conveyance. A person is considered a passenger until safely and completely out of/off the elevator or escalator, and has had time to move away from it without injury.
A passenger’s motive for using the elevator or escalator is also irrelevant in determining liability. The same high duty of care applies whether the passenger rode for pleasure or business. So if a passenger is injured by an elevator he or she was taking to the top of a skyscraper for the sole purpose of enjoying the view, and did not intend to transact any business in the building, he or she is no less entitled to a safe elevator than someone in the building to conduct business. A department store visitor injured by a defective escalator while “just looking” is owed the same high duty of care as someone in the store with the intent of purchasing an item.
How Injuries Happen On An Elevator
Many elevator-related injuries occur when people are exiting the elevator when the elevator floor is not flush with the outside floor. Many “trip and fall” injuries often result when the doors of the elevator open too soon, and the elevator is still one or two inches from the floor. This can result a trip and fall accident, which may cause serious injuries, such as a broken leg, arm, or hip, or even a traumatic brain injury (TBI), if the person strikes his or her head on the ground.
Hand, forearm, foot, and leg injuries can occur when a person attempts to stop the elevator’s doors from closing to board or exit the elevator car. The doors may close on the person’s limb forcefully, and crush it. Very rarely, an elevator’s cables will break, causing the elevator to drop several floors.
Modern elevators are held in place by multiple steel cables, so if one breaks, the others usually can still hold the car in place. Additionally, elevators are equipped with an automatic safety brake system to prevent a multi-story free-fall. And even if all the safeties fail, the friction of the rails in the elevator shaft and air pressure beneath the car would slow it down considerably – also, most elevators have a shock absorber at the bottom of the shaft to cushion the blow. However, passengers may be injured due to sudden stops, jolts, or other sudden movements.
The more likely scenario to a broken cable or elevator mechanism is that the elevator will stop between floors and passengers may be trapped. When this happens, sometimes people will try to “escape” the elevator by climbing out of the car into the shaft. This is very dangerous. It is better to use the call button or your cell phone to summon help, and wait in the elevator car until it arrives.
Many elevator accidents occur on construction sites when workers are installing elevators or traveling from floor to floor. If a worker is injured in an elevator accident, the worker’s sole remedy is usually worker’s compensation benefits. But if another company (i.e., a subcontractor) installed the elevator and has the duty of maintaining it in a safe condition, the worker injured by a defective and dangerous elevator may be able to sue the elevator company.
How Injuries Happen On Escalators
There are twenty-five times more elevators than escalators in the United States, but the numbers of people injured and killed by escalators is about 30% higher. You are 19 times more likely to have an accident on an escalator as compared to an elevator.
Not surprisingly, young children represent a significant percentage of those injured while riding an escalator. Young children do not have the same stability as adults and are especially vulnerable to falling and being injured on the moving metal parts. A child’s untied shoelace become trapped in the treads while riding. Unsupervised children may run up and down the escalators for fun, often falling in the process and being injured.
Children under the age of five are exempt from the rule of “comparative negligence,” as they are legally incapable or understanding that their conduct may result in injury. However, the “common carrier” duty, or similar consideration by the courts may only apply to individuals who are using elevators or escalators for the purpose of transportation at the time of the injury. Children whose caregivers allow them to play at the top or bottom of an escalator, with no intention to ride the escalator, may not receive the assumption of the common carrier higher duty of care. This does not mean, however, that the owner/operator is absolved of all duty of care. The owner/operator still owes the child the duty of reasonable care to keep the premises safe. Because the owner/operator knows or could anticipate that young children would play on or around the elevator or escalator, the owner/operator has a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent those children from being injured or killed.
People over the age of 60 are another group of people with a high percentage of injury on escalators, because they may also be less steady on their feet than younger adults, and are more prone to severe injury when falling.
Many escalator accidents are caused by worn, damaged, or faulty equipment, which could have been avoided with proper inspection, servicing, and maintenance. The company that services, maintains, and inspects the escalator to ensure passenger safety may be held liable for injuries resulting from negligence. Unlike an elevator, which has doors separating the moving car and its passengers from the stationary shaft, an escalator must move alongside a stationary balustrade. It is important that openings (“apertures”) between treads and risers, and between steps and balustrades, be kept to a minimum to prevent a rider’s hand from being caught between them.
Your Legal Rights If You Have Been Injured in an Elevator or Escalator Accident
If you were injured, or someone you love was killed, due to an elevator or escalator accident that was the result of poor maintenance or oversight on the condition of that conveyance, you have the right to seek compensation for your injuries from either the business or property owner, the property manager, or the company in charge of maintaining it. Depending on the state and the circumstances, you may be able to bring a suit against some combination of all of them.
If the elevator or escalator was defective because it was not properly made or designed, and a person is injured or killed due to that defect, the injured person or the next of kin (if the person was killed) has the right to bring a strict products liability lawsuit against the manufacturer, supplier, owner, and operator of the elevator or escalator. Strict products liability law does not require that the injured person prove that the manufacturer or other person had failed to use due care in designing or making the elevator or escalator. All that needs to be shown is that the elevator or escalator was made or designed defectively, and that defect caused the person’s injury. There is no requirement that a specific act of negligence be shown.
If you have been injured or a loved one killed in an accident involving an elevator or escalator, you should contact an experienced personal injury law firm as soon as possible. If the elevator or escalator was owned or operated by a public entity, such as the state, a county, or a city (for instance, City Hall or the County Recorder’s Office), it is generally necessary to file a claim for damages with the proper governmental agency within six months of the date of the incident.
An experienced personal injury attorney will send an investigator to inspect the accident site and speak to witnesses. The attorney will know how, where, and with whom to file a claim to ensure that you obtain full compensation for your medical expenses, pain and suffering, mental anguish, property damage, lost wages, and all your other injuries and damages.