Negligent Repair & Maintenance

Plaintiff fell into elevator’s shaft, claimed doors malfunctioned

Settlement: $2,875,000

Case: Bruce M v Saunders Apartments, Inc., Vision Enterprise Management, LLC and Skyline Elevators, Inc., No. 14074/06
Court: Queens Supreme
Judge: Janice A. Taylor
Date: 12/12/2008

Plantiff Attorney(s)

Adam M. Orlow; The Orlow Firm, Flushing, NY

Patrick J. Crowe; Crowe & Fassberg, New Hyde Park, NY, trial counsel, Margaret G. Klein & Associates, New York, NY (Saunders Apartments Inc., Vision Enterprises Management, LLC)
Stuart D. Schwartz, Gottlieb, Siegel & Schwartz, L.L.P., Bronx, NY (Skyline Elevators Inc.)

Facts & Allegations On June 12, 2006, plaintiff Bruce M, 56, a legally blind mailroom clerk, fell into an open elevator shaft at his residence, an apartment building that was located at 63-109 Saunders St., in the Rego Park section of Queens. M plummeted about 16 feet, and he sustained injuries of his back and his heels.

M sued the building’s owner, Saunders Apartments Inc., the building’s manager, Vision Enterprise Management, LLC, and the elevator’s contracted maintenance provider, Skyline Elevators, Inc. He alleged that the defendants were negligent in their maintenance and repair of the elevator.

M claimed that he approached the elevator with the intention of ascending to his third-floor apartment. He contended that the shaft’s doors opened and that he stepped into the shaft, not realizing that the elevator was not present. He claimed that the building had experienced considerable problems with the elevator, including a malfunction that caused the shaft’s doors to open when the elevator was not present. M’s counsel presented minutes of meetings of the building’s board of directors, and the evidence indicated that the directors had discussed the elevator’s problems.

M also claimed that Skyline Elevators constantly attempted repairs of the elevator, but that the repairs typically did not solve the subject problems. M’s counsel noted that the building’s maintenance records indicated that Skyline Elevators was summoned to the building four days before the accident because of intermittent failure of the lobby hall door’s interlock mechanism. He argues that Skyline conducted a repair, but that the repair was not properly performed. He also argued that the building’s owner and manager were obligated to conduct a complete upgrade of the elevator system.

Saunders Apartments’ counsel contended that the company properly and timely maintained the elevator by contacting Skyline Elevators. He argued that any prior problems with the elevator were minor and that there was never any problem involving the doors opening without the elevator car being present.

Skyline Elevators’ counsel acknowledged that the company had been asked to fix the elevator’s interlock mechanism, but he contended that the elevator’s age and condition prevented a proper repair. He claimed that Skyline Elevators had recommended a complete upgrade of the system, though he acknowledged that he could not produce documentation of the recommendation.

All of the defendants also argued that M should have noticed that the elevator was not present.

INJURIES/DAMAGES comminuted fracture, fracture, L1; fracture, calcaneus, fracture, heel

M sustained a burst fracture of his L1 vertebra and comminuted fractures of his calcanei, which are the heels. He had to wear a back brace during the six months that followed the accident, and he also underwent surgical fusion of each heel. The surgeries were followed by a total of about eight months of inpatient rehabilitation.

M claimed that he has required the presence of a residential health-care aide for five hours a day, every day, since the accident, and he contended that he will need such assistance throughout his life. He also contended that his injuries prevent his resumption of any type of work.

M sought recovery of his past and future medical expenses, including the cost of his residential aides; his past and future lost earnings; and damages for his past and future pain and suffering.

RESULT: During the trial, the parties negotiated a $2,875,000 settlement. Skyline Elevators’ insurer agreed to contribute $925,000 from its $1 million policy; the remaining defendants’ primary insurer agreed to contribute $1 million; and the same defendant’s excess insurer agreed to contribute $950,000.

INSURER(S): Greenwich Insurance Co. for Skyline Elevators
Greater New York Mutual Insurance Co. for Saunders Apartments and Vision Enterprises Management (primary insurer)
The Navigators Group Inc. for Saunders Apartments and Vision Enterprises Management (excess)

PLAINTIFF EXPERT(S): Conrad Berenson, Ph.D. economics, Woodbury, NY (did not testify)
Joseph Carfi, M.D., physical rehabilitation, Great Neck, NY (did not testify)
Patrick Carrajat, P.E., elevator & escalator maintenance standards, Long Island City, NY (did not testify)
David Flug, M.D., ophthalmology, Forest Hills, NY
David S. Levine, orthopedics, New York, NY (did not testify)

DEFENSE EXPERT(S): John Halpern, P.E., elevators/lifts/conveyors, Syosset, NY (did not testify)
Michael J. Katz, M.D., orthopedics, New Hyde Park, NY (did not testify)
Patrick J. McPartland, P.E., elevator & escalator maintenance standards, New York, NY (did not testify)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s and defense counsel.