Imagine riding in an elevator and experiencing a sudden or violent drop. The drop is so rough that it causes you to stumble and fall, and you break your arm. What went wrong? Whose fault is it? Will anyone be required to help with your medical costs and lost time at work?
These are the questions asked in a case of “elevator liability.” When an elevator breaks down, the person riding in the elevator may be subject to serious personal injury. Although elevator injuries do not often happen, when they do, it is important to know what to do about assigning liability and awarding monetary damages.
According to recent data, almost 17,000 people are injured on elevators and escalators yearly in the United States. Between twenty and thirty people per year are fatally injured in elevator-related accidents. Elevator mishaps are not as uncommon as many people believe.
What Qualifies as an Elevator?
A court will address the type of elevator when evaluating whether a party is liable and the amount of damages that can be awarded. An elevator is defined as a car or cage installed in a building used for the vertical transportation of persons or property. There are three general types of elevators:
- Manual: A manual elevator is operated by an attendant, who is told by the passenger where to go. The doors on manual elevators are generally opened and closed by hand
- Automatic: These are elevators operated by passengers without an attendant present. Automatic elevators are the most common type of elevators used today
- Escalators: While not technically elevators, these electronically-powered staircases are treated the same regarding liability for injury. Although escalators are slow and thus less risky, garments can be caught in them, potentially causing injury
Many elevator accidents are the result of someone’s negligence or carelessness. For example, when an elevator has not been properly maintained or repaired, it can present dangers to passengers. That is, elevator negligence cases sometimes involve failure by an owner to maintain their property.
In other cases, a defective mechanical part can cause the elevator to malfunction. The designer can be held liable if the defect is in the product’s design. If the defect occurred during the construction of the part or product, then that manufacturer can be held liable.
How Can Someone Be Found Liable for Elevator Liability?
Elevator liability is based on a type of personal injury claim called negligence. Generally, elevator accidents occur because of negligence by the party responsible for the accident. “Negligence” means the failure to use reasonable care, which results in injury to someone or damage to their property.
There are four elements a plaintiff must show to prove a defendant’s negligence, including:
- Duty – The defendant must have owed the plaintiff a duty of reasonable care. In cases of elevator liability, proving duty will be relatively easy. It will involve analyzing the extent of the defendant’s responsibility to employees, customers, and the general public
- Breach – Once a plaintiff shows that a defendant owed them a duty of reasonable care, they must show that the defendant breached that duty. This includes the need to show that the defendant could foresee the possible risks that could have impacted the plaintiff’s health or safety and did not adequately prepare for them. The breach will often involve failure to take adequate security precautions
- Causation – The plaintiff must show that the defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s injury or damage. The defendant’s liability may be reduced if it can be shown that there were other factors present that also contributed to the plaintiff’s loss
- Damages – The plaintiff must have suffered some damage, loss, or injury
What If It Is Difficult to Prove Which Party’s Negligence Caused the Injury?
If the elements listed above cannot be shown after a reasonable effort to do so, it is still possible to have a negligence claim under a different theory. The injured party can attempt to persuade the court to apply the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.” The principle of res ipsa loquitur is that some things cannot happen unless someone screwed up.
In a res ipsa loquitur case, the plaintiff need not establish the traditional elements of negligence, but instead, negligence is automatically imputed to the defendant. Essentially, res ipsa loquitur says, “we can’t explain what you did wrong, but you must have done something wrong or the damage or loss wouldn’t have happened.”
Who May Potentially Be Liable For Elevator Accidents?
Evaluating who is liable for an elevator accident depends on the nature of the accident. Individuals that could be liable for elevator accidents include:
- The owner of the building in which the elevator or escalator is located
- Any elevator maintenance company hired to inspect or repair the elevator
- Elevator designers
- Elevator manufacturers
- The company that installed the elevator
- Attendants or employees responsible for operating a manual operator
What Are Some of The Most Common Types Of Elevator Accident Claims?
Determining the most common type of elevator accident is difficult because so many different circumstances cause them. Elevator accident claims range from a mistake made by the employee to a problem with the installation process. Listed below are the most common types of elevator accident claims:
- Elevator doors that unexpectedly slam shut on a patron and cause injury
- The elevator gets stuck between floors for a significant time
- Sudden elevator movements or “free-falls” cause a rapid or violent drop of the elevator
- A person falls down an open elevator shaft that was at least partly hidden
- Defects in the design, manufacture, or installation of the elevator or its doors
What Damages Am I Entitled To?
If you are the victim in an elevator liability lawsuit, you may be entitled to damages. Under tort law (negligence is a tort), damages will be awarded based on the trouble created. Your damages could be economical, including lost wages, medical bills, and money to compensate for your emotional distress, pain, and suffering. A non-monetary award may involve the court issuing an injunction ordering the defendant to start doing something or stop doing something – the thing that caused the harm to you.
Though rare, in some cases, plaintiffs are awarded punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for their gross negligence or intentional harm. Punitive damages are rare because they are only awarded in the most egregious cases, where the court or jury feels normal compensatory damages are insufficient.
Will I Need to Contact A Personal Injury Attorney About My Elevator Injury?
Legal requirements for elevator liability cases are ever-changing and can be quite complicated. Because these lawsuits are fact-specific, don’t assume your case will work out the same as some case that seems familiar – subtle differences can result in different outcomes.
For these reasons, it’s best interest to contact a competent personal injury attorney in your area for assistance with an elevator liability lawsuit. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to explain your situation and your options to you. They will also have experience negotiating settlements of disputes.
Finally, they will represent your interests in a court of law if necessary. The legal process can sometimes be complex, but an attorney can be on hand to guide you through the process.