Even through elevators are among the safest forms of public transportation, elevator accidents kill dozens and injure thousands of people in the United States each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Although the common nightmare scenario of an elevator plunging all the way to the ground is uncommon, there are many other ways for an elevator to cause injury or death.
Causes of Elevator Accidents
Because elevators are complex systems, the potential causes of elevator accidents are too numerous to conveniently list. Nevertheless, some of the most common causes are:
- The elevator doors fail to open
- The elevator begins moving while a trapped passenger is attempting to exit after prying the doors open
- Elevator pulleys malfunction, causing the elevator to drop suddenly
- Improper leveling of elevator floor with the hallway floor (causing a slip and fall accident while exiting the elevator)
- The elevator begins moving before the doors close
- The elevator shaft is exposed because the outer doors remained open after the elevator departed
- Sudden acceleration or deceleration due to faulty wiring
Please see this page for a more detailed explanation of elevator malfunctions and their consequences.
Theories of Liability
Premises Liability: The owner or manager of a public establishment has a legal duty to keep the establishment reasonably safe for the public. This duty includes both the duty to remedy known hazards and the duty to inspect for and remedy non-obvious hazards. When a failure to meet this duty of care causes an accident, the owner or manager can be held liable under a premises liability theory.
Who Can I Sue?
The owner or manager of the building in which the elevator is located is not the only possible defendant in an elevator accident lawsuit. Other possible defendants include:
- The elevator inspector
- The state government (if it employed the elevator inspector)
- The elevator maintenance crew
- Rescue personnel
- The manufacturer or distributor of the elevator.
Proving Your Case
To win a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit involving an elevator accident, you must usually establish either negligence (carelessness) or product liability (that the elevator system was defective) against the defendant. The fact that an accident occurred is not enough by itself to establish either negligence or product liability. Establishing either of these claims often requires technical expertise, along with an attorney who understands how elevator accidents occur and how they relate to the law of the particular state in which the accident occurred.
Personal injury damages in an elevator accident case can include compensation for medical expenses, lost earnings (for missed work while you were in the hospital, for example), pain and suffering and permanent bodily injury, among other items. In a wrongful death lawsuit you can claim for your own losses resulting from the death of a family member. In both cases, damages for intangible losses such as emotional distress could make up 80 percent or more of your total damages verdict or settlement.
If your damages were limited to psychological suffering (if you suffered claustrophobia while trapped in an elevator, for example), obtaining damages could be complicated by the fact that the courts of many states are reluctant to award damages for purely emotional distress when distress is not accompanied by any physical injury.
If you or your loved one has been injured or killed in an elevator accident, it is imperative that you act now to contact an experienced elevator accident lawyer.