Slips, Falls, and Other Premises Liability Claims

Our lawyers have helped victims who have been injured in by work-related knee injuries, traumatic brain injuries and other accidents throughout New York. We are dedicated to helping each client recover maximum compensation for their injuries.

Premises liability law involves the legal responsibilities of property owners and occupiers to prevent injuries to persons on their property. One of the most common causes of such injuries is a trip or slip and fall, such as on an icy sidewalk, a loose or uneven stair tread, or a piece of debris or spilled liquid on the floor. Property owner liability varies depending on the rules and principles adopted in the jurisdiction where the injury occurred. An experienced personal injury lawyer at The Orlow Firm in Flushing, New York, can evaluate the strength of your premises liability claim and help you recover damages for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering.

Premises liability: general principles

Some states’ premises liability laws focus on the status of the visitor to the property. In such states, the injured person is generally defined as either an invitee, a licensee or a trespasser.

  • Invitee. An invitee is someone who is expressly or impliedly invited onto the property of another. The owner owes the invitee the highest duty of care, which includes taking every reasonable precaution to ensure the invitee’s safety.
  • Licensee. A licensee, by contrast, enters the property for his or her own purposes but is present at the consent of the owner. The owner is required to warn a licensee of hidden dangers, but is not necessarily required to fix them.
  • Trespasser. A trespasser enters the property without any right whatsoever to do so. In the case of adult trespassers, the owner generally has no duty of care and need not take reasonable care of his property or warn of hidden dangers. Even if a person was trespassing at the time of his or her injury, he or she may still be able to recover, however, if he or she can show that the owner knew it was likely that trespassers would enter the property. Children are owed a higher duty of care, regardless of whether they are considered trespassers. A landowner’s duty to warn is also heightened with respect to children.

In states where consideration is given to the condition of the property and the activities of the owner and visitor, a uniform standard of care is applied to both invitees and licensees. This uniform standard requires the exercise of reasonable care for the safety of visitors other than trespassers. To satisfy the reasonableness standard owed to invitees and licensees, an owner has a continuing duty to inspect the property to identify dangerous conditions and either repair them or post warnings as appropriate.

Proving owners’ liability in premises liability cases

In proving a premises liability case, an injured person must show that the standard of reasonableness required by an owner has not been met. Perhaps the most difficult element an injured person must prove is the owner’s knowledge of the condition causing his or her injury. The injured person must prove that the owner knew or should have known the condition in order for liability to attach, which is often quite difficult to establish.

Defenses to liability in premises liability cases

One of the commonly applied theories to limit an injured person’s recovery is comparative or contributory fault. A visitor has a duty, in most cases, to exercise reasonable care for his or her own safety, and when that degree of care is not exercised, an injured person’s recovery may be limited or reduced by an amount attributable to his or her own negligence.

In the cases where a person’s injuries are the result of slipping on an icy sidewalk in front of a business or on a grape, lettuce leaf, banana peel or other food item that has fallen on a grocery store floor, the property owner may or may not be liable for the person’s injuries. Although property owners have a duty to exercise reasonable care to maintain the premises in such a way to prevent injuries to lawful visitors, if a condition of the premises is noticed by a customer or other visitor or should be readily apparent, the property owner may avoid liability because the injured person has also a duty to protect himself or herself against the injury.

The property owner may also avoid liability by establishing that the debris had so recently fallen on the floor or that the ice had so recently accumulated that the responsible persons had no reasonable opportunity to correct the condition and avoid the hazard before the plaintiff fell. In other words, the plaintiff in a slip and fall case, whether it occurs in a grocery store or elsewhere, must show that the owner had a reasonable period of time in which to discover the dangerous condition and in which to remedy it. The determination of what constitutes a reasonable time will vary from case to case.

Contact a personal injury lawyer

Even common accidents such as slips and falls can present complex legal issues and complicated questions of both fact and law. Accordingly, if you have been injured in a premises-related accident, an experienced and knowledgeable personal injury attorney at The Orlow Firm in Flushing, New York, can advise you on your rights and work with you to pursue a favorable outcome.

Copyright © 2014 FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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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

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.

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Elevators: Keeping Them Safe

Today, there are about 60,000 elevators operating in New York City’s five boroughs, some of them making hundreds of trips a day. The average life span of an elevator is about 20 to 30 years before it begins to require major equipment upgrades. To a building owner, an elevator is one of the most expensive items he or she can own, and potentially the most dangerous. Elevators are generally safe and reliable, but preventing elevator accidents and injuries requires diligent inspections and proper maintenance.

Who is Responsible for Elevator Safety?

In New York City, co-op boards, building owners and building administrators have primary responsibility for keeping elevators safe and functional. When an elevator is found to contain a design defect, the manufacturer is not required to notify anyone other than the owner of the equipment. Therefore, the general public and the media might not be aware of faulty elevator machinery until it causes injury or death. Those in charge of ensuring that elevators are inspected on schedule and properly maintained have an enormous responsibility to the people who use them.

Are There Safety Standards for Elevators?

In general, elevators are kept extremely safe through strict inspection and maintenance requirements. Unfortunately, the codes that apply are not always uniform and may vary significantly from place to place. In addition, elevators installed before or after a certain date may have different safety features depending on which code was in effect at the time.

For example, elevators installed in 2000 or later are required to have safety features such as detectors for unintentional car movement when elevator doors are open, brake, gear and hydraulic system monitors that will automatically stop a car when there is a problem, and a secondary emergency brake that is activated when unintended movement of the elevator car is detected. Elevators whose installations predate these safety codes are still required to have door restrictors that prevent the car from operating when passengers are inside and the doors are not in a closed position.

Standard for Elevator Mechanics and Inspectors

New York City has one of the country’s most stringent elevator inspection codes. Only a certified elevator inspector is able to truly assess whether the equipment is safe for all passengers. Even so, a thorough analysis of elevator components goes well beyond the annual inspection that is required in order to renew a certificate. Therefore, an up-to-date inspection certificate does not necessarily guarantee that all elevator machinery has been thoroughly and professionally examined. And, while elevator inspectors must be certified, New York City’s 7,000 elevator mechanics need only show that they are healthy and fit enough to carry out their jobs.

In April, 2012 a bill was introduced in the City Council to mandate rigorous training and licensing of elevator mechanics. Citing three recent elevator accidents that had resulted in death and injury, as well as the electrocution of an elevator technician, Council members insisted that, if plumbers and electricians need to be licensed, elevator mechanics should be licensed as well. A second bill aims to increase elevator safety by requiring residential elevators to be equipped with a mechanism that would protect passengers in the event of an elevator car’s sudden acceleration.

The licensing measure will help building owners and administrators to be more effective in their hiring of qualified elevator maintenance and repair personnel. Further, since elevator maintenance workers account for almost half of all annual elevator fatalities, it is hoped that improved training and licensing will help keep them safe as well.

Elevator safety codes can be complicated and require the analysis of a legal expert. If you or a loved one has been injured due to faulty elevator maintenance or an elevator defect, the attorneys at the Orlow firm can provide you with a knowledgeable determination as to your possible legal remedies.

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Top Causes of Elevator Accidents and Lawsuits

With adequate repair and maintenance, elevators provide a fairly safe means of transport. Accidents do occur however, claiming about 30 lives per year and injuring 17,000. Occasionally, an elevator may stop before reaching the proper level between floors. It may suddenly start, stop, or speed up. Doors may fail to open, or close too quickly. The elevator may fail to arrive, even though its outer doors open. Generator or cable failure may result in elevator malfunction. Or, most deadly of all, people may fall into an open elevator shaft.

Elevator accidents arise from a variety of causes. The major ones are:

Mis-leveling: The most common reason for elevator lawsuits occurs when the elevator fails to come to a stop that is level with the hallway floor. Mis-leveling more often occurs in brake-controlled elevators found in apartment houses built between 1930 and 1960. Hydraulic elevators do not rely on a brake for stopping, although mis-leveling can still occur due to problems with valve leakage or low oil conditions. Successful plaintiffs in a mis-leveling lawsuit must be able to show repeated problems with mis-leveling requiring multiple repairs and possibly violations based on brake or leveling citations.

Defective Sliding Doors: The second most common type of elevator lawsuit results when a passenger is struck and injured by a closing elevator door. This kind of accident more often takes place on elevators with car and hallway doors of the sliding type. Door strikes most commonly occur when door protective devices (electric eyes, safety edges and detector edges) have malfunctioned or or are have defects. In addition, doors improperly adjusted as to closing speed and closing force may strike and injure passengers. In older apartment houses, elevators with swing type outer doors can cause crushing injuries to fingers and hands from doors closing too rapidly.

Over-Speed: In this third most common cause of elevator litigation, passengers may suffer serious injuries to the lumbar or cervical spine, ankles, knees and other body parts. These injuries occur when passengers are thrown to the floor or against the cab wall due to an elevator moving at excessive speed. Counterweights malfunction, or control systems fail to detect and correct over-speed conditions or stop the elevator. In a New York City Penn Plaza building, an elevator traveled from the 46 th floor to the basement, impacting at about 1,000 feet per minute. The passengers sustained high speed impact injuries to their legs and knees, resulting in a $4 million settlement paid by the elevator contractor.

Falls into Shaftways: This category of elevator accident gives rise to the most severe injuries and the greatest number of fatalities. The most common causes of falls into elevator shafts are inoperable or defective door interlocks, passengers exiting elevators stopped more than three feet from a landing, elevator surfing, illegally opening a shaftway door, and removal of passengers from a stalled elevator by untrained personnel. These cases require a careful determination as to whether the accident arose from mechanical malfunction or whether the actions of the victim and other parties contributed to the injuries sustained.

Other Causes of Elevator Accidents: A more uncommon category of elevator accidents involves electrocution or shock caused by improper wiring performed by either the elevator contractor or an outside electrician. Elevator personnel and building staff may also suffer amputations or crushing injuries while operating in unsafe work areas. Even rarer is drowning or near-drowning when elevators become trapped below street level during a fire (while emergency sprinklers or hoses are operating) or water main break. Finally, multiple failures allowing an elevator to move with its doors open may expose passengers to amputations and decapitations when they attempt to exit a moving elevator.

This list of elevator accident causes is not all-inclusive. You or a loved one may have suffered injury due to a more uncommon type of elevator malfunction or incident. Although elevator accidents are relatively rare, they can cause severe injury and even death. If you have been hurt in an elevator accident, contact the Orlow firm for a thorough assessment of your possible legal remedies.

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Elevators and New York City Housing: A Dangerous Combination?

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) runs one of the largest and busiest elevator fleets in the area. Its 340 public housing complexes serving poor and moderate-income families contain 3,338 elevators in 2,618 buildings. At 3.1 million trips a day, these elevators make 1.2 billion trips each year. In light of such heavy traffic, rates of elevator accident and injury are quite low. In fact, the likelihood of getting hurt in a city housing elevator is just one in 34 million trips.

Accidents Do Happen

In spite of NYCHA’s generally good elevator safety record, about 300 residents, employees and visitors have reported elevator-related injuries from 2001 to 2009. Those who received only minor bumps and bruises did not seek medical attention. But more than 170 people received treatment at hospitals, private doctors, or from paramedics and firefighters at the scene. Elevator accidents most often result in injuries to heads, backs, arms, legs, feet and knees.

Some Injuries Are More Serious

The most horrific recent NYCHA elevator accident resulted in a fatality. In 2009, a 5 year-old Brooklyn boy plunged 10 stories to his death while trying to climb out of a stalled elevator. In 2008, a 23 year-old home health aide en route to visit a patient was stranded in a stalled elevator when the outer door failed to close completely. As she grabbed the edge of the door to pull it closed, her middle finger became caught in the door frame as the door slammed into her hand. The door’s swift and forceful motion sliced off the top of her finger above the end joint. In a different incident, a firefighter trying to remove passengers from a stalled elevator lost part of his finger as well. Other serious injuries included swelling to the head and hands, a broken nose, and two amputated toes.

Hazardous Doors

The great majority of NYCHA elevator complaints concern inner and outer doors than close too rapidly and with too much force. Residents have had to push young children out of the path of fast-closing elevator doors to avoid serious harm. Still, an infant was rushed to the hospital after being struck by a door and a young boy required surgery to repair an injured hand. Other residents have suffered cuts to hands and wrists as well as bruising on their forearms. In many cases, door timers are defective and need to be replaced.

It’s Not Just Injury

Malfunctioning elevators tax the daily lives of city housing residents both physically and psychologically. Many suffer inconveniences like missed school buses and medical appointments and are often forced to climb flights of stairs. This effort takes an especially difficult toll on the elderly and the disabled.

The City is Responsible

From 2001 to 2007, the NYCHA paid $3.5 million in judgments and settlements arising from elevator-related injuries. The biggest payout, $725,000, went to a Brooklyn public housing tenant who fell and broke her leg while stepping out of an elevator. The elevator had come to a stop two inches below floor level, creating a serious risk of passengers tripping while exiting the car. At least 14 elevator accidents involved children. In 30 cases, violations were issued to the NYCHA by the Buildings Department. The city has since made several repairs and has allocated $107 million toward the replacement of 550 elevators over the next five years.

Personal injury lawsuits against the city must be filed within certain time frames. If you or a loved one has been injured in a New York City public housing elevator accident, you should seek immediate medical and legal help. The attorneys at the Orlow firm are well-versed in this area of law and are knowledgeable about the procedures involved in filing claims against the city.

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