Each day, thousands of people in New York City use elevators to get to offices, apartments and multi-level stores and malls, etc. Many of us tend to take for granted that the elevators in which we ride daily will function properly. Unfortunately, the consequences of an elevator that malfunctions or crashes can be catastrophic or fatal. In New York City, there have been a number of recent elevator accidents involving victims such as construction workers and elevator mechanics who were killed or seriously injured when they fell down elevator shafts.
New York City has local laws in place that govern elevator installation, inspection, maintenance and safety. If you have been injured or if you have lost a loved one in an elevator accident, it is important to fully understand your legal rights and options. A New York injury lawyer who has the knowledge and the experience of handling elevator accident cases can help injured victims and their families seek maximum compensation for their losses.
Elevator Accident Statistics
Fatal elevator accidents do not occur frequently. But when they do happen, the consequences are tragic and devastating. According to the most recently available statistics, U.S. elevators make about 18 billion passenger trips a year. Those trips result in about 27 deaths annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Elevator mechanics and repairmen make up a majority of the victims who are affected by accidents involving elevators. A 2009 report in Occupational Health and Safety notes that individuals who install and maintain elevators may become injured in a variety of ways including falls, electrical shocks, muscle strains and getting crushed by the elevator. Falls caused over 25 percent of the deaths of workers who were installing or repairing elevators. “Caught in” deaths included being caught in elevator machinery such as counterweights or between two cars or between the elevator shaft or doorway and a car.
But, there have also been a number of incidents, several recently, in New York City, where tenants and guests have been seriously injured or killed as a result of malfunctioning elevators.
Common Causes of Elevator Accidents
Elevator accidents occur due to a variety of reasons. Here are some of the most common causes of elevator accidents:
- Falls into shafts: These types of elevator accidents cause the most severe injuries and the most number of fatalities. Falls into elevator shafts occur due to defective door interlocks, malfunctioning equipment, failure on the part of building owners and/or their managing agents to properly notify residents or guests about ongoing maintenance work and removal of passengers from a stalled elevator by untrained personnel. In such cases it is important to determine who or what caused the incident.
- Faulty sliding doors: Injuries occur when a closing elevator door hits an occupant. Door strikes often happen when the door protective devices have malfunctioned. In addition, doors that are not properly adjusted may also malfunction and injure passengers. Several New York City buildings continue to have the swinging type of elevator doors installed and these can cause serious or even fatal crushing injuries. When these doors fail to open or close properly, riders may get struck or knocked off balance. In other cases, riders may get caught between the doors or even become trapped within the elevator.
- Abrupt starts and stops: Incidents involving a sudden and unusual movement of the elevator car often causes riders to fall or collide with other riders and/or objects in the car. Such incidents can be related to power loss or excessive speed conditions.
- Misleveling: When an elevator fails to come to a stop that is level with a hallway or finished floor, misleveling is said to have occurred. This type of a problem may happen in brake-controlled elevators that are typically found in older apartment buildings. Misleveling may also occur in hydraulic elevators due to problems with low oil conditions or valve leakages. Misleveling due to an elevator car stopping between floors may result in riders getting trapped and also lead to trips and falls.
- Excessive speed: When the speed of an elevator is not properly adjusted and it moves at an excessive rate of speed, there is the risk of passengers falling to the floor or being thrown against the walls of the cab. Passengers in such cases may suffer serious injuries to the neck, back, knees, ankles and other body parts.
- Lack of proper maintenance: When the elevator is not routinely serviced or maintained and when repairs are not done in a timely manner, the elevator may malfunction and this may result in serious injuries to passengers.
Elevator Regulations in New York City
New York City’s Department of Buildings (DOB) is the agency that oversees elevator installation, maintenance and repairs in city buildings. Effective Jan. 1, 2016, the DOB started requiring buildings to inspect and maintain their elevator machine’s brakes every year. In addition to the inspection of the brakes, the building is now required to document and properly tag the elevator brake. The regulation states that if a brake repair is required after an inspection, then the building owner or manager will shut down the elevator and notify DOB immediately. The department will not permit the elevator to be placed back in service until the repair is completed.
Types of Injuries in Elevator Accidents
Elevator accidents often result in major injuries. Here are a few examples of the types of injuries that may be sustained in elevator accidents:
- Head injuries: When a rider in an elevator strikes his or her head against the walls of the cab, traumatic head injuries may occur. Head injuries sustained in such cases may range from concussions to traumatic brain injuries that may result in permanent disabilities.
- Spinal cord trauma: Neck and back injuries are also extremely common in elevator accidents. Serious spinal cord injuries may result in paralysis. These types of injuries might require extensive treatment and may result in chronic pain or other types of permanent disabilities as well.
- Broken bones: When an elevator accident occurs, there is the potential for crushing injuries. This may result in multiple bones getting broken. Such injuries may require extensive treatment and rehabilitation including physical therapy. Some of these injuries may not completely heal even after therapy and may leave the person with permanent loss of strength and mobility in the affected areas.
- Internal injuries: Victims of elevator accidents may suffer damage to their internal organs such as the lungs, heart and kidneys. These injuries may even prove fatal.
- Amputations: These are catastrophic injuries. Crushing elevator accident injuries may result in loss of limbs. Victims of amputations face significant medical expenses and also the cost of prosthetics.
- Lacerations: Victims of elevator accidents may suffer from cuts or lacerations that may lead to significant bleeding, which may even result in the death of the victim.
Liability Issues in Elevator Accidents
Depending on the nature and circumstances of an elevator accident, there are a number of parties who may be held liable for the injuries and damages caused. Often, in elevator accident cases, victims or families of deceased victims may be able to file a premises liability claim against the property owner and/or property manager. Property owners and property managers have a legal obligation to ensure that their premises are safe for tenants, visitors and guests.
This responsibility includes installing, maintaining and repairing elevators in the building. In recent New York City elevator accident cases we have seen that the elevators in question have been cited several times prior to the accident for safety violations. Building owners and their managing agents have a responsibility to ensure that they adhere to safety regulations and address any safety violations that come up.
If the injury accident occurred because an elevator repair company failed to carry out repairs correctly, then that company may also be held accountable for the injuries, damages and losses caused. When a defective product causes an elevator to malfunction and results in injuries, the manufacturer of the faulty component can also be held liable.
In cases where workers are injured in an elevator accident, they may be able to seek workers’ compensation benefits, which covers medical expenses and a portion of lost wages. Workers may also be able to file a third-party claim against a party other than the employer or a co-employee who may have caused or contributed to the incident. Examples of third parties include general contractors, sub-contractors, building owners, managing agents, etc.
A knowledgeable elevator accident lawyer will request, obtain and preserve a number of key documents to bolster your case including, but not limited to:
- Security or surveillance video obtained from inside the elevator.
- A copy of the contract with the elevator company that provides maintenance or repair work for the building.
- All work records for the elevator in question over the last five years.
- All records relating to load-testing work done on the elevator.
- All correspondence between the elevator company and the building owner for a period of five years before the accident date.
- Copies of inspection reports for the elevator in question.
- Any safety violations on the part of the building relating to the elevator in question.
- Complaints filed by tenants with concerns about the safety of the elevator in question.
- All service and maintenance reports for the five years prior to the accident.
- Copies of all applicable insurance policies.
It would also help to have physical evidence from the accident scene, eyewitness statements and photographs from the time of the accident. All these crucial pieces of evidence will help strengthen your elevator accident claim and achieve the best possible outcome. There may be several avenues for compensation in elevator accident cases and it takes an experienced elevator accident attorney to explore all the possibilities and secure maximum compensation for your losses.
What is Your Claim Worth?
As with most other personal injury cases, the value or worth of your claim will depend on the nature and extent of the injuries and losses sustained. So, if your injuries due to the elevator accident are more severe, then your claim will have a greater worth. Injured victims of elevator accidents can seek compensation for damages such as medical expenses, which would include cost of hospitalization, surgery, medications, medical equipment, etc.
Injured victims can seek compensation for lost wages, benefits and income that is lost while they recover from their injuries. It is always a good idea to keep track of the number of workdays missed as a result of the injuries. In addition, victims who have lost their jobs or their ability to earn a livelihood as a result of the injuries may also be able to seek compensation for lost future income or loss of one’s ability to earn a livelihood. In cases where catastrophic injuries have been sustained, damages may be sought for permanent injuries and disabilities. Elevator accident victims may seek compensation for past and future pain and suffering as well.
An experienced New York personal injury lawyer will not only be able to determine the parties that may be held responsible and the amount of damages to be sought, but will also fight hard for the victims and their families to ensure that they are compensated for their significant losses.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been injured in an elevator accident or if you have lost a loved one in an elevator accident, the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options, and also fight hard to recover just compensation for you. Our law firm recovered $3,000,000 for a man who fell and suffered two broken legs when he walked into an open elevator shaft.
Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury cases in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case.
Other TOLL FREE phone numbers for us are:
1-800-RADIO-LAW, 1-888-WYPADEK, OR 1-800-LAS-LEYES
Please visit us at: www.WORK4YOULAW.com
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