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Elevator Accident Defense

New York Firm Defends Against Injury Claims Involving Elevators, Escalators, Moving Walks and Other Forms of Vertical Transportation

Representing maintenance companies, installers and manufacturers of elevators, escalators and moving walks

Elevators, escalators, moving walks and other devices, collectively known as vertical transportation, are safer now than they have ever been. Yet, it seems that these devices are being blamed for accidents and injuries in a disproportionate and unwarranted number of personal injury lawsuits. These lawsuits almost invariably allege negligence in the maintenance of these devices, but can also involve issues of design, as well as factors that might be beyond the control and responsibility of the elevator company. The successful defense of such claims requires a solid knowledge and understanding of the technical issues, the Elevator Safety Code A17.1 and the local municipal code. New York City has among the highest number of such devices within its borders, and those devices are subject to what is perhaps, the most stringent and complicated code provisions in the country. We have an excellent working knowledge of these code requirements and have extensive experience with them in the context of defending elevator companies in litigation. Complicating the defense of this type of lawsuit is the applicable case law in New York, which places a difficult burden on elevator maintenance companies, who provide full service contracts, to maintain elevators in safe operating condition. The legal principle of res ipsa loquitur is often used and sometimes misused to hold companies liable. Motions for summary judgment are being made with increasing frequency and must be addressed with thorough analysis and aggressiveness to optimize the chances of a successful resolution.

Determining if there was a real “accident” and a real injury

A passenger in an elevator sometimes might sense a change in direction or even a “free fall”, when all that is happening is an unexpected deceleration or stop. The defense attorney must have a firm grasp of the applicable laws of physics, as well as a good working knowledge of the various safety devices, with which modern elevators are equipped and how they affect operation. The defense attorney must also have a solid understanding of personal injury defense, in order to help determine whether the injuries claimed are real and if so, whether they were the result of the event in question or a pre-existing condition.

Understanding the challenges faced by elevator maintenance companies is essential for a successful defense in elevator injury claims

Generally, the law does not hold a party responsible simply because another party was injured. Under general negligence law, for liability to attach, there must be a legal duty and a breach of that duty, known as negligence, which is the proximate cause of an injury. In the case of an injury caused by a defect in a building, such as a defect in an elevator, proof is generally required that the responsible party either created the defect or had notice of it (knew or should have known of its existence) but failed to correct it despite having had a reasonable opportunity to do so. Some elevator malfunctions occur without any prior notice to the elevator company. Almost invariably, suspicion is directed at the elevator maintenance company. Most people do not appreciate the challenges faced by elevator maintenance companies, and it seems oftentimes that perfection is expected. Anything less than perfection is too easily equated with negligence. Defense counsel must have a comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced in maintaining elevators, especially in the high rise buildings of Manhattan or other high traffic locales, in order to be able to communicate these challenges to a judge or jury, so that a case will be judged fairly and justice can be achieved. At the SWARTZ LAW OFFICES, we have the experience, expertise and communication skills to present most effectively the defense of the elevator maintenance company. We have prevailed at trial and on motions for summary judgment on behalf of our clients on numerous occasions.

Defending against res ipsa loquitur claims

The law sometimes allows plaintiffs to bring claims without specific proof of negligence under a doctrine called res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself). In these cases, the plaintiff must prove: that the injury ordinarily does not occur without negligence; and that the instrument that caused the injury was within the “exclusive control” of the defendant and the plaintiff did not cause the accident. These elements permit the jury (or fact finder) to draw an inference of negligence. This principle is almost always raised by personal injury plaintiffs in elevator accident cases, but is not always applicable. We are able to defend against these elements where:

  • There is a likely explanation for the accident that does not involve negligence of the maintenance company;
  • The elevator was not  under the “exclusive control” of the maintenance company, because the property owner or a third party exercised control.
  • The plaintiff contributed by using the elevator improperly or dangerously.

We use experienced experts and investigators to help gather evidence and develop a solid defense against liability.

Defending indemnity claims

Almost invariably, when an elevator maintenance company is sued for personal injury based on an alleged elevator accident, the building owner is sued, also. The building owners have what is called a non-delegable duty to maintain their premises, including elevators, in a safe condition. The elevator maintenance company that provides exclusive “full service” maintenance is subject to a claim for indemnification by the building owner, under common law and under contract (where applicable). The elevator maintenance contract can contain terms that are onerous, as well as terms that might be beneficial to the defense of the elevator maintenance company. While a careful analysis of the elevator maintenance agreement is important, a working knowledge of applicable case law is of equal importance, as it might interpret the contract language in ways that are unexpected or counterintuitive.

Trust Us to Develop your elevator accident defense

Elevator injury cases require an understanding of complex trial procedures, as well as traditional personal injury law. The Swartz Law Offices has experience representing major elevator service companies against civil claims. Call 212-725-7070 or contact us online to arrange a consultation with an elevator injury defense attorney.

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