Elevators and Escalators: Are They Safe?

Elevators in the U.S. make 18 billion passenger trips annually. Deaths due to elevator accidents average about 30 per year while the annual injury rate is estimated at 17,000. Though deaths and injuries are higher among workers who maintain and install elevators, passengers are generally safer on elevators than they might be if they were taking the stairs instead. When elevator accidents do occur, however, they can be quite shocking, distressing and frightening.

Recent Incidents

  • In 2011, a New York City advertising executive was killed while stepping into an elevator. The car suddenly shot upward with its doors still open. When the swift motion caused the victim’s knees to buckle, she fell forward into the shaft and was trapped between two floors. A subsequent investigation revealed that maintenance workers had bypassed the door safety circuit by using a jumper wire while servicing the elevator. A simple precaution like placing yellow caution tape across the elevator door jamb would have prevented the tragedy.
  • In April, 2013, a Florida hotel worker was cleaning out the bottom of an elevator shaft when a 3,500 pound elevator car came plunging down the shaft and crushed him. Investigators suspect that, due to a violation of the “Lockout/Tagout” procedure, main power to the elevator had not been completely turned off. Proper procedure requires that a person physically shut off power to the elevator and place a lock on the power lever. Only the person holding the key to the lock can restore power.
  • Other high profile recent elevator accidents involved a Cal State Long Beach student and a 5 year-old Brooklyn boy, both crushed to death when they tried to escape a stalled elevator. In 2011, 22 workers were injured in a New York City Bed, Bath and Beyond freight elevator. When cables supporting the elevator snapped, the car dropped three floors to the ground. The brake mechanism was defective and failed to stop the car. The elevator defect caused its occupants to suffer neck and back injuries.

Common Underlying Causes of Elevator Accidents

According to Consumer Watch, elevator accidents are usually caused by one or more malfunctions. The list may include:

  • Pulley system malfunctions causing an elevator to drop rapidly within the shaft.
  • Defective doors that allow passengers to fall into an open shaft.
  • Inadequate or incompetent repair, maintenance or inspection.
  • Electrocution caused by faulty wiring or elevator control malfunction.
  • Entrapment or wiring malfunction caused by heat from fire or water from emergency sprinklers or hoses.


Escalators may be even safer than elevators, although children and senior citizens are more likely than others to suffer injury. A 2008 study covering 14 years’ worth of data found 40,000 escalator-related injuries among older people, but no deaths. Children experience about 2.6 escalator injuries per 100,000, although the rate is nearly twice as high among children less than 5 years of age. No fatalities have been reported. Serious injuries may involve amputations or the tearing away of body parts (avulsions). Among the general population, accidents most often result from tripping or being pushed while walking on an escalator or falling while trying to step on or off the escalator.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an elevator or escalator accident, contact the attorneys at the Orlow firm for a knowledgeable determination as to whether legal action is warranted.