Personal Injury & Medical Malpractice Blog

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Elevator Accidents And Preventable Tragedy

Riding the elevator is a daily ritual for many people who live, party, and work in the sky-high buildings of New York City.  One man, anticipating a New Year’s Eve party in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, died in an elevator accident before he could celebrate the arrival of 2016. 

The man saved a woman when an elevator began falling down the twenty-six floor building.  The woman, a mother, was pushed quickly out of the enclosure, just in time.  However, the man was not as fortunate—he was stuck in the roof of the elevator, legs hanging from above and screaming in pain.  Despite being rushed to the hospital, his critical condition escalated to death soon after. 

Most disturbingly, the elevator had a track record of maintenance problems that were never resolved by the building owners.  Apparently, the condition of the elevator was so bad that the owners had multiple code violations. 

It is documented that the owners failed to fix problems with the elevator for several years. Furthermore, the building tenant association revealed that the elevator had the tendency of “jumping a couple floors.”  It also emphasized that the accident, and the man’s literal downfall, may have been prevented with proper maintenance.


Accidents caused by malfunctioning elevators or escalators are "premises liability" cases.  Building owners have the duty to maintain premises that are reasonably safe, or perhaps, at the very minimum, to warn others of dangerous conditions.   The duty of owners or possessors of a building to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition extends to elevators and escalators within the building and on the premises,  (see Rumetsch v John Wanamaker, New York, Inc., 216 NY 379, 110 NE 760 [1915]; Sciolaro v Asch, 198 NY 77, 91 NE 263 [1910]; Dykes v Starrett City, Inc., 74 AD3d 1015, 904 NYS2d 465 [2d Dept 2010]; De Cristofaro v Joann Enterprises Inc., 243 AD2d 1015, 663 NYS2d 689 [3d Dept 1997]; see Paz v Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, 28 AD3d 212, 812 NYS2d 82 [1st Dept 2006]; Huerta v New York City Transit Authority, 290 AD2d 33, 735 NYS2d 5 [1st Dept 2001]; Petersen v Forty-Five Nevins St. Corp., 22 AD2d 960, 256 NYS2d 113 [2d Dept 1964], aff'd, 17 NY2d 885, 271 NYS2d 311, 218 NE2d 343 [1966]). To succeed, a victim must prove that the building owner or possessor had a duty to keep the elevator or escalator in a reasonably safe condition, breached that duty by failing to maintain or repair the dangerous condition, and that the condition caused the injury, (see Ianotta v Tishman Speyer Properties, Inc., 46 AD3d 297, 852 NYS2d 27 (1st Dept 2007).

To be found liable, the owner must be aware or “should have been” aware of the hazardous condition on the premises, yet subsequently failed to restore the property.  In other words, the victim must also prove that defendant created or had actual or constructive notice of the defect, (see Rivera v Merrill Lynch/WFC/L/Inc., 84 AD3d 524, 922 NYS2d 399 [1st Dept 2011]; Cilinger v Arditi Realty Corp., 77 AD3d 880, 911 NYS2d 75 [2d Dept 2010]; Espinoza v Federated Dept. Stores, Inc., 73 AD3d 599, 904 NYS2d 3 [1st Dept 2010]; Mack v New York Yankees Partnership, 69 AD3d 542, 894 NYS2d 395 [1st Dept 2010]; Ianotta v Tishman Speyer Properties, Inc., cited above; Kelly v Old Navy, 11 AD3d 345, 784 NYS2d 483 [1st Dept 2004]; Clark v New York City Housing Authority, 7 AD3d 440, 777 NYS2d 450 [1st Dept 2004]).

If an owner is found to be negligent, he or she may be found liable for the injuries or death that you, or a loved one, have suffered. 

In order to establish a negligence claim, a plaintiff may need to demonstrate that he or she was legally on the premises, such as being invited or doing business on the property, in order to recover damages.  If you were injured while trespassing on property, you should consult an attorney regarding whether there are any exceptions that might apply to you. 

Finally, your cause of action is not valid unless the owner’s negligence was the actual and proximate cause of your injury.

​If the elevator or escalator is on government owned property, you may have less time to make a claim than if the elevator or escalator was on private property.  Accordingly, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.

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