Fell Down the Shaft

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Q: My building has an elevator.  To enter the cab, I must pass through two doors: the elevator door on my floor and the door to the cab itself.  After the cab is stopped, the door on my floor will unlock.  I can open it if I wish to get in the cab.  When the cab is not stopped at my floor, a safety device – called an ‘interlock’ – locks the floor door.  The purpose of the device is to prevent me from falling down the elevator shaft.

One day, erroneously believing that the cab was stopped on my floor, I pulled the door to the elevator, stepped forward and fell down the shaft.  Obviously, the device had failed to work.

A maintenance man for the elevator service company thinks that the device failed to work properly because it was damaged by fluids that had entered the device.  Occasionally, individuals relieved themselves in the elevator.  Also, mop water would penetrate the device.

A: Both the landlord and the elevator service company had a duty to maintain the elevator, particularly the device.  This is true both at common law and under Administrative Code of the City of New York § 27-994(e), which requires your elevator to have a hoistway-door interlock.  The landlord and company were negligent in failing to maintain the device.  Their negligence caused your accident.

For a witness to be qualified as an expert, he must possess the requisite skill, training, education, knowledge or experience from which it can be assumed that his opinion is reliable.  It is questionable whether the maintenance man possessed such skill, knowledge and experience.

Moreover, your own expert might testify that fluids penetrating the device should not have caused this accident.  If fluids had penetrated the device, an electrical short circuit would have caused the elevator to shut down.  The device can only have failed because it was not maintained properly.

In addition, the problem described by the maintenance man must have existed long enough for the building owner and the service company to have an opportunity – which they failed to take – to deal with it.  This failure alone was culpable negligence.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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