Statistically, elevators and escalators are very safe. But people aren’t statistics. Elevator and escalator accidents happen. And when they do they tend to be serious.
Incidents involving elevators and escalators each year kill 31 people and seriously injure about 17,000 people in the United States. Elevators are the prime culprit, causing about 90% of the deaths and 60% of the serious injuries. Deaths related to escalators are much less frequent; of those deaths, 75% involve falls.
Elevator injuries can result from defective design, defective manufacturing, improper installation, improper maintenance or improper operation. All of these causes are preventable.
Mis-leveling in particular is an avoidable but common source of elevator injuries. Washington regulations require elevators (and escalators) to have a floor leveling accuracy of half an inch or less.
We have handled a lot of elevator and escalator cases. The most recent involved an elevator that mis-leveled. Our client stepped out of the misleveled elevator and fell. She suffered (non-surgical) back injuries. The defendants settled the case for $200,000.
In most elevator and escalator cases there will be two defendants: the owner of the building and the company that installed and/or services the elevator or escalator.
The owners or operators of elevators or escalators operated for public are considered to be common carriers. The designation “common carrier” means that the owner of an elevator or escalator owes a heightened duty to passengers.
A common carrier must “exercise the highest degree of care consistent with the practical operation of its type of transportation and its business as a common carrier.” Common carriers have a duty to protect their passengers from the danger of injury from malfunctions or defects of which they know or should anticipate. This duty requires a common carrier to take reasonably foreseeable precautions on behalf of its passengers.
Sometimes owners throw up their hands and say “we didn’t install or service the elevator.” That may be true but the owner of the elevator or escalator still owes a non-delegable duty to passengers. Even though it may use an outside service company it cannot contract away its responsibility.
In addition to the responsibility of the owner the company that installed and/or serviced the elevator or escalator is also responsible for making the equipment reasonably safe for passengers.
Elevator maintenance companies like to defend by saying that a piece of equipment broke and they responded right away. What more could they have done. But simply reacting isn’t enough.
The generally accepted industry standard for elevator maintenance requires “preventive maintenance”. Preventive—as opposed to reactive—maintenance involves cleaning, lubricating, inspecting, adjusting, repairing or replacing various components in the elevator system to the extent possible before a malfunction of the elevator happens.
Defendants in elevator and escalator cases are sophisticated. It’s important that people injured in elevator and escalator accidents hire attorneys who are experienced and can anticipate defense tactics before they’re deployed (rather being surprised and just reacting to them).