Elevators are an easy and convenient way to travel quickly between the floors of a building. Elevators have been around for quite some time, with the first elevator reportedly being built by Archimedes way back in 236 B.C.. In 1853, Elisha Graves Otis was the first to create a "safety elevator" which kept the elevator car from plunging downwards if the rope broke. Modern technology has helped improve these handy transportation devices and allowed us to build high-rises and skyscrapers hundreds of stories tall. Though modern elevators are much safer than the elevators of the past, there are still accidents today.
About 27 people are killed each year in elevator accidents according to Consumer Watch. In addition, over 10,000 people are injured mainly due to "elevator door malfunction, carriage misalignment with floors, and passenger safety vulnerabilities." If you have been injured due to an elevator mishap you may wonder who can be held liable for your injuries. The simple answer is that it will depend, as the facts and circumstances of each case are different.
A Defective Elevator - Products Liability
Suppose you are injured by an elevator and that injury was due to a defect in the elevator itself such as a faulty part. In that case, the elevator manufacturer or another party in the chain of distribution could be held liable because they put a defective product on the market.
The area of law that deals with defective products is called products liability. There are several legal theories that can be pursued when seeking compensation for an injury due to a faulty product including negligence and strict liability. What theory is pursued depends on what happened in the case.
Under negligence or strict liability, a product defect is usually categorized in one of three ways. If there is an error in the manufacturing process such that the product is rendered defective in some manner, this is typically considered a manufacturing defect. If the design of the product results in a product that is dangerous to the consumer then it this is considered a design defect. Finally, if there are absent or inadequate warnings on the product such that the normal consumer cannot safely use the product, this can be considered a failure to warn.
If a product has one of these defects, then a consumer injured by the defective product could potentially hold the manufacturer, distributor, or seller of that product liable for damages.
Unsafe Property - Premises Liability
Elevators are typically used in public settings such as malls or office buildings, although they can occasionally be found in residences as well. If you are injured because the owner of the property has failed to maintain the elevator on his or her premises in a safe condition, then that owner could potentially be liable for damages.
In general, a property owner has a duty to make sure that his or her property is safe so as to prevent people who are visiting the premises from getting injured. Traditionally, the law has placed those who enter onto another's property into three different categories. A person categorized as either an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. The level of care that a property owner owes to a person depends on the category that person falls into. Traditionally, the owner of the property has owed the greatest duty of care to invitees and the least duty of care to trespassers.
If an elevator is located on a business property, visitors to the property are usually categorized as invitees. This means that the business owner has a duty to inspect the property for potential hazards that patrons could encounter and warn them of dangerous conditions. An owner who fails to properly maintain his property, including making sure the elevators are working properly, could be held liable if someone was injured due to the owner's negligence.
With proper maintenance and care, elevators are a safe way to traverse the floors of a building without having to trudge up and down flights of stairs. There are some 900,000 elevators in operation in the United States today so chances are you have or will ride on one at some point in your life. If that ride leaves you injured, please do not hesitate to call Gilman & Bedigian.