Made notorious often through media like TV shows and movies, elevators and escalators have become synonymous with falling to one’s death or being ground up by merciless, moving, metal stairs. While these depictions hold some amount of truth, the occurrence of a fatal elevator or escalator accident is very rare in the United States. It is still important, however, to understand the inherent risks in riding either one of these pieces of equipment because injuries happen far more often, and they can be severe. Whether the elevator hasn’t been inspected recently or an escalator is malfunctioning, people can experience injuries such as losing a finger or arm, being crushed, or any number of catastrophic injuries. When that happens, you need an experienced attorney to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve for your pain and suffering.
Why do elevator and escalator accidents happen?
While deaths are not common when it comes to elevator and escalator accidents, serious injuries occur far more frequently. These can include anything from soft tissue damage to hand and foot fractures to even traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries.
When conveyance devices such as these malfunction due to poor manufacturing or lack of maintenance, accidents happen. These accidents include:
- Falling due to sudden stops and starts between floors.
- Tripping and falling due to uneven leveling between the elevator and the landing.
- Getting caught when the elevator doors shut unexpectedly.
- Falling down an open elevator shaft.
- Tripping and falling down an escalator that suddenly stops.
- Becoming entangled, crushed, or pinched in an escalator’s mechanism.
In one elevator accident case our firm handled, the elevator suddenly dropped two floors. (The company’s defense was elevators don’t drop. Make of that what you will.)
These accidents often occur due to negligence. Either one or more parties can be held liable for the malfunctioning devices, depending on what the investigation from your lawyer and the department of labor and industries finds. Some examples of negligence that cause these accidents include:
- The manufacturer creating the device with a flawed design or defective parts.
- Lack of inspection, maintenance, and repair.
- Putting the equipment back into operation after an accident without appropriate inspection or repairs.
- Breaking laws and/or codes that these devices are meant to follow, whether in installing them or using them.
Who can be held liable for elevator and escalator injuries?
If you or a loved one has been in an elevator or escalator accident that resulted in injuries, it may seem difficult to know who should be held liable.
Sometimes, it is the manufacturer of the device that can be held liable. If the manufacturer installed flawed axles or faulty wires, then the injured party could seek compensation from them. This is especially true if the manufacturer of the device agreed to contract with the buyer that states that the manufacturer is to be responsible for ongoing maintenance and inspections. If you have an experienced premises or product liability attorney, they will know to run a thorough investigation of the accident, so that they can determine exactly who is responsible, whether it be one or many parties.
Even in cases where the manufacturer can be held liable, the owner of the elevator or escalator is likely to be held responsible in every accident. Specifically, the owner will be held liable in cases where the owner:
- Failed to repair the device or warn their users of a malfunctioning device of which the owner already knew of.
- Did not report incidents to the department of labor and industries.
- Did not remove the device for inspection before putting it back into use.
When you go to the mall or hotel or any other public place that uses these devices, it is important to be aware of the safety measures of the device such as the capacity limit which may be posted inside the elevator, or the caution signs near escalators. If a user is injured because they ignored the cautionary signs or safety warnings, a lawsuit may not be feasible as the user would be the one liable for their own accident should the device be proven to be in proper functioning order.
What about private elevators?
Residential or private elevators are held to a less strict regulatory level. If the owner of the residence lives at the house or home that is having an elevator installed, then they do not need to be licensed should they wish to maintain the elevator themselves, so long as it is not open to public use.
However, if professionals are in charge or put in charge of installing and/or performing maintenance work on the private elevator, those professionals “must be licensed by the department of labor and industries.”
If the elevator is located in an adult home or group residential building, then any conveyance work on the elevator must be done by a licensed professional.
What this means for someone who was injured in a residential elevator accident is that if someone else was in charge of the installation and maintenance of the device, and if the malfunction of the device that caused the accident occurred because of negligence of that other party, they can be held liable. If the owner of the residence decided to be responsible for maintaining the elevator, and it malfunctions due to improper maintenance, then the owner is liable.
One should always be wary of large, heavy machinery such as elevators and escalators. While we may use them every day, it only takes one mistake – one missed inspection – to change someone’s life forever with a catastrophic injury. If you or a loved one have suffered such an injury due to a malfunctioning elevator or escalator, then you may be able to secure compensation from the owner and/or manufacturer of the device. At Philbrook Law Office, we are experienced in product and premises liability cases, and we will ensure that you receive our direct and thorough attention. You should not have to suffer for someone’s negligence. Contact us in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA to learn more about your legal options. Please call us or fill out our contact form. Proudly serving Washington State.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.