Escalator accidents occur thousands of times each year, often resulting in serious injuries. They occur in shopping malls, office buildings, hotels, airports, casinos, sports facilities and many other types of venues. The reasons for escalator accidents vary but many accidents involving injury can be attributed to the building manager, the escalator manufacturer or the maintenance company. The most common theories of liability in an escalator accident are product liability and negligence.
How Escalator Accidents Happen
Escalator accidents can happen in a number of different ways. Some of the most common are:
- Sudden stops
- A slip and fall accident on an overcrowded escalator causes a “domino effect”
- Sudden changes in the direction of the elevator (from up to down, for example)
- Liquid or debris on the steps
- Loose steps
- Sudden acceleration or deceleration
- An abrupt change in the height of the ceiling (a sudden loss of headroom causes a head injury)
- Jerky escalator movements
- A passenger’s clothes, shoelaces or jewelry gets caught in the moving parts
- A passenger’s feet are pinched at the top of an “up” escalator
If the cause of the accident can be traced to a defect in the escalator itself, the accident victim can win the case without even proving negligence, under a product liability theory. Two types of defects are most commonly alleged in product liability cases – design defects and manufacturing defects. Although in either case the victim may sue either the manufacturer or the distributor of the escalator (regardless of which party caused the defect), establishing product liability often requires considerable technical expertise. In many cases, the testimony of an expert witness is required.
Commercial establishments that install escalators are considered “common carriers”, just like airlines, railroad companies and cruise lines. This means that they are held to a particularly high duty of care with respect to the safety of their guests, including the duty to regularly inspect the escalator for hazards. Besides the owner of the building, a victim injured in an escalator accident may have a claim against an escalator maintenance company, a government inspection bureau, the building management company or a business that rents space from the building (a mall shop, for example). It is also possible that two or more parties may share responsibility for the accident.
In some cases an escalator accident is partially caused by an injured party (by playing on the escalator or riding while inebriated, for example). The effect of negligence by the victim on the ultimate outcome of an escalator accident case depends largely on the law of the state in which the accident occurred. In most states, a court will apportion responsibility among the victim and the defendant and reduce the victim’s damages recovery in proportion to his own degree of fault. If the victim’s fault exceeds a certain proportion (50 percent in some states), the victim may be barred from recovery altogether.
The situation can be further complicated if a child is injured for causes that include his own careless behavior, because the standard of care required of a child decreases depending on the age of the child. In most states, for example, a child under seven years old cannot be ruled negligent no matter how carelessly he behaves. Even so, a parent might be found negligent due to inadequate supervision of the child.
If you have been injured in an escalator accident that you believe may have been at least partially the fault of another party, a skilled personal injury lawyer could make the difference between the success and failure of your claim.