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Elevator and Escalator Injuries: An In-Depth Look at a Common Hazard

Written by Berkowitz

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Product and Premises Liability Lawyers Serving Victims of Escalator and Elevator Injuries throughout Connecticut

Escalators and elevators are something we ride without much thought.

You see them at the mall, some might be in your condominium building, while others are at the stadium. You ride them because they offer a level of convenience. You assume that when a building offers this convenience, it would also be safe.

However, escalators and elevators account for astounding numbers of accidents and deaths each year – much more than they should. Considering the slow speeds at which they move, there is just one explanation for the injuries and deaths that occur: negligence.

The Statistics Do Not Lie

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), elevators and escalators kill approximately 30 people and injure 17,000 each year. Out of those numbers, elevators caused 90 percent of the deaths and 60 percent of the injuries.

While adults are more prone to elevator injuries, children are injured on escalators more often.

A vast majority of these injuries are construction workers who fall down the hollow shaft or are injured repairing, installing or removing an elevator.

A Brief History of the Elevator and Escalator

A few decades ago, buildings were never more than two or three floors tall. This is because no one could reasonably climb that many floors. Today, skyscrapers are only possible because of elevators. Without them, no one could climb 30 or more floors to his or her destination.

The first “modern” elevator was introduced in the Industrial Era by Elisha Otis, and since its debut, it has seen dramatic changes. The first lifts employed were hand-operated by cranks, levers, and ropes. Today, these are highly mechanicalized instruments featuring the latest technology and software.

Many think that the elevator came first, but it was, in fact, the escalator that was used initially – around 1859.

History shows, however, that elevators were used in BC times, but more for a means to transport goods from below ground to above ground.

The Modern Elevator and Safety

Today, elevators are much safer than the ones introduced back in the Industrial Era. With modern advancements and state-of-the-art technology at work, these elevators run as part of a fully functioning operating system.

Regardless, there are flaws. As with all forms of technology, lifts are equally dangerous. While they don’t claim as many lives today as they did in the early 1900’s, they still account for dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries each year.

A Look at the Most Common Elevator Injuries

Elevator injuries account for more than 90 percent of the deaths. While construction workers take the brunt of those statistics, there are instances where regular civilians are injured by elevators at work, in their residential building, and even at a relative’s home.

Elevator Door Mishaps and Injuries

An elevator door is by far the biggest culprit of elevator injuries. When a door does not close properly or fails to open, it can leave passengers stranded. Also, a unit might be imbalanced when the door does not properly shut, causing the unit to stop abruptly, jolt, or fall.

Other times, a person is caught in the elevator door. Even though these doors have safety mechanisms that are designed to reopen when pressure is recognized between the doors, that technology does not always work. Furthermore, it does not protect a person’s clothing from becoming caught and closed into the doors.

Lastly, elevator doors that close too quickly can injure a person – even if they reopen and do not crush the individual. These injuries can affect a person’s head, face, torso, and appendages.

Abrupt and Sudden Stops

Elevators are meant to arrive at their floor and stay calmly. Most people who have ridden an elevator have stories about a time the elevator stopped unexpectedly, jerked, or fell a few feet before safety mechanisms stopped it.

When these sudden and dramatic movements occur, passengers can fall, be thrown about the inside, and endure severe injuries. Just a few of these injuries might include:

  • Contusions
  • Lacerations
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Broken limbs
  • Internal bleeding
  • Organ damage

Misleveling Injuries

Misleveling is when an elevator does not evenly stop with the floor. Often this occurs after extensive use and no calibration.

When the car does not stop in line with the floor, slips, trips, or falls are very likely. After all, most do not look underneath to ensure the elevator is level before stepping out.

Other times, misleveling can lead to an elevator that stops and opens its doors in between floors – leaving passengers stranded. While this doesn’t usually lead to injuries, if that person tries to escape the elevator, they could be seriously injured.

Falls Down an Open Elevator Shaft

The most common cause of injury and death, especially among maintenance and construction crews, is falling down an open elevator shaft. These falls often happen several stories up – and almost always are fatal. Even if the victim lives, they encounter catastrophic injuries that often leave them permanently disabled.

Crush Accidents and Injuries

Crush accidents are more common in private elevators installed in residences. Individuals may climb into the elevator shaft, such as a young child, and become trapped or crushed by the car.

Escalators: A Helpful, but Hazardous Luxury

Three men: Reno, Wheeler, and Seeberger, take credit for the invention of the escalator. They took what was once referred to as a “moving staircase,” and brought it to life.

You see escalators just about anywhere you go, including malls, airports, and business buildings. However, escalators are equally dangerous to elevators – if not more hazardous to adults and small children.

Most Common Injuries and Accidents Associated with Escalators

Hundreds of people ride escalators each day in the city. However, that does not mean they are safe. In fact, there is a variety of hazards present on escalators that can cause serious, sometimes even fatal, injuries.

Finger Injuries

Finger injuries are especially common with small children. A little hand can become caught or entrapped in the stair device, crushing it, or amputating it. Also, the moving rails pose hazards. If one’s hand were caught under the moving rail, they could suffer bruises, lacerations, breaks, and loss of appendages.

Comb Plate Entrapment

The comb plates are the steps you use when you stand on an escalator. These combs, however, are notorious for entrapping their passengers by attaching to clothing, accessories, and even loose shoelaces. This can lead to falls, slips, and trips.

Falls and Slips

Slips and falls are also common on escalators. A person can slip and fall while getting off the unit; especially if it rides too quickly or is bumpy at the exit. Other times, a person can fall backward or forward on the escalator – injuring themselves and others on the way.

Exposed Equipment Injuries

When riding an escalator, if the machinery and moving components are not covered, they can entangle with your clothing. They also have sharp edges that can easily cut or gouge the skin. In fact, multiple cases from airports have seen missing steps that caused riders to fall into exposed machinery and suffer serious injuries.

Children and the Elderly on Escalators

Children and elderly individuals frequently ride escalators, but they are the two age groups at high risk for injury on the device. Falls are the most common injury for these age groups, and for an elderly person, the fall could be catastrophic.

Determining Negligence in an Escalator or Elevator Injury

In some instances, the property owner is liable for injuries or deaths that occur on an elevator or escalator. Other times, it might be the manufacturer or party responsible for maintaining the units that are held liable.

Common causes of these escalator and elevator accidents include:

  • Improper or lack of scheduled maintenance. Property owners and manufacturers all have a responsibility to maintain their escalators and elevators. When they forgo maintenance to cut costs or save themselves from downtime, they are acting negligently.
  • Cheap or faulty components. Sometimes the property owner maintains the escalator or elevator, but there is a defect with the elements of the unit. In this instance, the manufacturer or company that manufactures the faulty part could be liable.
  • Failure to adhere to safety standards. There are state and federal safety standards in place to protect those using these types of devices. Any company that ignores these safety standards is considered negligent and reckless.

What Government Oversight is Involved in the Use of Escalators and Elevators?

Proper use of warnings is required. In fact, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have standards in place for escalators.

Warning signs must be placed, but many of these signs are inadequate as it is. In fact, the requirements for warning signs do not address the complexity of making these signs easy to understand.

Some common issues found on warning signs for elevators and escalators include:

  • Incorrect wording displayed to communicate the known entrapment dangers.
  • Incorrect pictures used to communicate the dangers of being entrapped and the injuries that might result from entrapment.
  • Incorrect colors on the warning sign to ensure they receive attention.

Issue of Premises Liability or Product Liability?

Escalator and elevator injury cases are especially complex because it is not always clear the type of negligence claim a plaintiff has.

Under premises liability, the property owner or manager would be at fault for not maintaining their elevator and escalators or failing to perform a necessary repair.

Under product liability, the issue would fall to the manufacturer or a third party responsible for components of the unit. However, in this case, the parts must be defective or knowingly harmful in some way to qualify as a product liability claim.

Speak with a Personal Injury Attorney to Explore Options

Deciding what type of claim you have or determining the party at-fault in these types of cases is not easy. Therefore, it is in your best interest to speak with a personal injury attorney and explore your options.

Contact Berkowitz and Hanna, LLC to schedule a no obligation consultation. Call 866-479-7909 or contact us online to get started.