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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.