Premises Liability: When Riding the Elevator Becomes Fatal

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With the thousands of high rise buildings in and around New York and other large metropolitan areas, there is no way for some to avoid the use of elevators on a daily basis. Coupled with leading a comfortable and sedentary lifestyle, many of us just don’t want to take the stairs when there is a faster way to move from floor to floor and meeting to meeting. But the very mode of transportation we take for granted can turn deadly in the event of a malfunction.

In 2011, back-to-back, coast-to-coast incidents involving elevator accidents occurred. That year, a New York woman was dragged up several stories when the elevator car travelled upward while she attempted to step into the elevator. She became caught between the cars when her foot missed stepping into the intended car. In another similar incident in California, a woman attempted to step into the elevator when it, too, jolted upward suddenly, causing her leg to become lodged between the elevator car and sides of the shaft. She was dragged several floors, as others witnessed in horror. Those incidents remind us quickly how a casual occurrence can change in an instant.

Elevator accidents can be the result of passenger error entering and exiting the elevator car, and horseplay when teens and children start pushing buttons and jumping up and down. And, endangerment on the part of an elevator repairperson occurs when repairs are not made known the commuter, when switches are shorted, and when regular maintenance is not scheduled. Incidents also occur when people attempt to climb out of (or jump from) an elevator car that is stuck between floors, as a sudden lunge can cause the person to fall or become crushed between cars or between one car and the bottom of the shaft.

How are commuters to know about these unsafe times? Sometimes they are not made aware of unsafe conditions, or of current repairs taking place in the building. The repairperson intends to be quick in repair, and gauges the “best” time to work on the elevator. In general, as a safety measure, elevators are supposed to refrain from moving when the doors are open. As seen in the incidents above, however, that is not always the case.

To ensure your safety when riding an elevator, it’s good practice to take part in the following:

  • Be aware of your surroundings by not texting or using the cell phone before you enter or exit an elevator car. Paying attention could save your life.
  • Don’t overload the car with passengers.
  • Refrain from carrying too much of a load, or too cumbersome a load. Entering and exiting the elevator car will be more difficult if you have too much to manage.
  • Report any sudden jolts you experience while riding on the elevator.
  • Never attempt to jump off between floors if you are stuck.
  • Call for help immediately when you sense impending danger.

Elevators are found in most office buildings and major department stores. A routine day should not be marred by an accident on an elevator if you ride with caution and report incidents immediately.