Articles Posted in In The News

This week, The U.S. Department of Transportation announced an effort to get parents and their teenage children to discuss the topic of safe driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 187,000 teenage drivers were injured in car crashes in 2010 and 1,963 young drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 died that year. One of every ten operators at the wheel in a fatal accident is between 15 and 20 years of age.

One of the significant issues in these fatal accidents and large volume of injuries is the use of cell phones or texting while driving. In 2010, 368 teenage drivers died while they were distracted by the use of electronic devices, which was 13% of the total of all fatal accidents involving distracted driving in 2010. NHTSA has determined that teenage drivers are 2 ½ times more likely to drive while taking risks when at least one other teen is in their vehicle than while driving alone. A majority of all teen fatal crashes happen between 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM.

Another major risk that teens engage in is failing to use their seatbelts. NHTSA notes that 60% of 16-20 year old occupants who died in car crashes in 2010 were not wearing their seatbelts. Alcohol is a major risk factor as well. 22% of teenage drivers killed in 2010 had alcohol in their system.

NHTSA provides several suggested rules for the parents of teenage drivers, including:

Have a contract with your child with regard to the rules of their driving, and the consequences if they fail to comply with the agreement;
Forbid the use of any electronic devices in the car while the teenager is driving;
Place limits on the teen’s driving during evening hours, such as no driving after 10:00 PM;
Insist on the teen wearing his or her seat belt at all times;

Demand complete drug and alcohol abstinence while driving. Additionally, bring to their attention the dangers of being in a car with another teen who has been driving or using drugs.

Permit your child to have only one passenger at all times, to limit the likelihood that he or she will be goaded by one of the occupants to engage in a risky behavior in an effort to impress the passengers in the vehicle;

Monitor and be careful with your own driving behaviors while your teenage driver is in the car with you. I confronted this issue recently with my teenage son at the wheel. I told him that he must always have both hands on the wheel when driving, to which he responded, why should I when sometimes you don’t? Point very well taken, and lesson learned.

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According to an article in the Bloomberg News last week, the City of New York will pay approximately $735 million in 2012 in settlement or jury verdicts as a result of medical malpractice claims, excessive force and false arrest cases against the NYPD, and claims involving collisions with NYC vehicles or due to improperly maintained roadways. This article focuses on the police abuse cases. In my opinion, the tremendous volume of cases against NYC for excessive force and false arrest is not at all surprising, as we have seen an alarming trend of improper police conduct in New York City in recent years. For example, in 2010, the City was forced to settle a class action lawsuit contending that the Department of Corrections illegally strip searched 100,000 inmates upon incarceration for misdemeanors or lesser charges. The City paid a whopping 33 million to resolve this class action litigation.

Further, in 2011, the NYC paid $15 million to resolve a class action lawsuit instituted in 2005 in which 22,000 New York residents were improperly charged with loitering in violation of a regulation which was determined to be unconstitutional thirteen years earlier! There has been an ongoing increase in police abuse cases for several years, with a 46% increase in claim payouts from 2006 to 2010. In 2010, the City of New York paid $136 million in jury verdicts or settlements in false arrest, excessive force or other abuse cases. In 2010, there were 2,657 civil rights claims filed against the NYPD and other City departments.

In other areas of tort litigation, the City of New York has taken proactive measures to improve the safety of the City and its citizens (and to a great extent, protect the City from claims and lawsuits). For example, in 2003, the New York City Administrative Code was amended to include a provision which mandates that adjoining landowners maintain and repair public sidewalks. According to Bloomberg News, this regulation saves the City of New York approximately $40 million annually in trip and fall cases. Similarly with regard to medical malpractice cases, the City created a special legal unit to review practices and analyze procedures. Apparently, this resulted in a 17% reduction in claims costs from 2006 to 2010, with the City paying $134 million in medical malpractice claims against the 11 public hospitals in 2010.

The City contends that in a large majority of cases, their police officers “did the right thing, but from a risk management point of view we want to settle meritorious claims…” Thus, City officials argue that they made a “business decision to settle, rather than run the risk of a much greater tort judgment against us.” However, this defense can hardly explain the conduct of NYPD officers in arresting 10,000 citizens on charges that haven’t been valid for almost 15 years, or strip searching 100,000 people on lowly charges such as disorderly conduct or trespass, which are often not even crimes but rather violations, the equivalent of a traffic infraction. If the City would focus its efforts on enhanced training of its officers and on proper police procedure, undoubtedly the trend of increased brutality and false arrest cases could be reversed.

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This past week, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper reported on what personal injury attorneys around the country have known for the last several years: Allstate and State Farm Insurance Company have a policy of refusing to pay on legitimate claims for pain and suffering, medical and hospital bills, and lost earnings, particularly in what are known as “low speed impacts” in which the injured car accident victim’s car does not have significant property damage. In this two part report beginning on July 3rd on CNN, the strategy of “Deny, Delay and Defend” is laid bare for exactly what it is, an effort by multi billion dollar companies to avoid payment of claims on the premise that there is fraud, when the true rationale is to maximize profits for corporations which rake in huge monies while doing their level best to avoid showing their profit and loss statements.
Simply put, the strategy is deny: we weren’t at fault because your client stopped short or didn’t go to the hospital right away; delay: we need several months to evaluate your claim by doctors, therapists, bio-mechanical engineers, or “trauma experts” (a new tactic in which insurance company adjusters have records reviewed by emergency room physicians who has never examined the plaintiff but determine that they could not have been injured in the accident because they didn’t complain of a particular injury right away); Lastly, defend: “We are offering you $7,500 and you have until this date to accept. If you do not accept by that date, the offer is withdrawn and will not be made again.”

As a personal injury attorney who has been litigating cases against Allstate and State Farm for over 25 years, one of the classic tactics that these corporations use, particularly in low speed impact cases, is to take the cases to trial, make posters out of the damage photographs, and show them to a jury with the exclamation: “How could this minor accident have caused all of those injuries/this surgery/that amount of treatment?” The fact is, and orthopedists and neurologists will readily acknowledge this, that cars are manufactured now so that there are accidents with substantial damage to the cars and the occupants walk away without any injury, (particularly since the advent of air bags for both front and side collisions) and many crashes in which there is almost no visible damage (due to the improved design of cars, or the point of impact between the vehicles, or damage not visible to the undercarriage of the car, for example), where the previously uninjured person now has severe back or neck pain requiring long term treatment and sometimes surgery.

The report also discusses a book written by Davis Berardinelli, called “From Good Hands To Boxing Gloves”, which illuminates the policy of treating most minor accident claim victims as frauds, and the effort to pay pennies on the dollar on legitimate claims to cause personal injury attorneys to decide that claims against Allstate or State Farm insureds without definitive fractures or noticeable property damage are not worth the expenditure in time or money. As Mr. Berardinelli notes in an interview, if they can save $1,000 on one million claims, “you can do the math.” One ironic story in the report was of a former Allstate claims adjuster who used to believe the company line that virtually all minor impact victims were malingerers—that is, until she was an accident victim herself and now has severe neck and back pain with a car that was barely damaged.

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its final report this week concerning the causes of the fatal bus crash in the Bronx last year that killed 15 passengers and seriously injured 18 others. On March 12, 2011, a charter bus that was returning from the Mohegan Lake Casino in Connecticut to Chinatown on Route 95 in the Bronx lost control, flipped over, struck a guardrail and then a stanchion which held a traffic sign. The impact sheared off the roof of the bus, causing the fatalities and severe injuries to the passengers.

Preliminary investigation determined that the driver, Ophadell Williams, was operating the bus at 78 m.p.h just before the crash. The speed limit in that location of Route 95 is 50 m.p.h. Williams also claimed that before the fatal crash, the bus was “clipped” by a truck, but this could not be confirmed, and there were several reports from other truck drivers who witnessed the early morning crash that Williams appeared to be falling asleep as the bus was veering onto the shoulder of the road.

Williams was indicted on several charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide later in 2011 and is being held on $250,000 bail at Rikers Island. Investigators further learned last year that Williams had a criminal record, his driver’s license had been suspended 8 times, and he had been fired from previous employment with the MTA and another bus company. World Wide Travel, the company that operated the bus, was apparently unaware of Williams’’ background as federal law only requires states to provide charter bus companies with the last three years of a commercial bus driver’s driving history.

The recommendations by the NTSB are as follows:

1. States would now require an onboard safety monitoring system which would permit the charter bus company to detect unsafe driving by its drivers. This would have permitted Williams’ employer to send a warning before the bus left the travel lanes of 95 and struck the guardrail;
2. States would be required to maintain 10 years of a commercial bus driver’s history, rather than the 3 years it presently requires. Had World Wide Travel received more substantial information on Mr. Williams’ criminal and employment background, it seems clear he would not have been permitted to operate any buses at any time;
3. That the National Highway Traffic Safety Board develop equipment which would limit the top speed that buses, motor coaches and trucks can travel at—Williams was operating the bus at 78 m.p.h. and investigation revealed that even at impact, the bus was traveling at 64 m.p.h.;
4. That safety equipment protocols for charter buses such as seat belts and shoulder harnesses be reassessed. Presently, this equipment is not federally mandated for bus passengers, (only drivers) but clearly some of the passengers who were either killed or seriously injured would have had a much better chance of surviving or being less seriously injured if they weren’t thrown from their seats;

5. A directive that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials work on developing high performance barriers on new construction and rehabilitation projects to improve guardrails. The barrier surrounding the stanchion in this crash was constructed to prevent only cars, and not commercial vehicles, from striking the support post.

As stated by the chairwoman of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman: “Together, fatigue and speed are an especially lethal combination…[this was] a deadly crash that did not have to happen.”

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In a case believed to be the first of its kind in the United States, a New Jersey judge ruled on May 25, 2012 that a woman who was texting her boyfriend when the boyfriend was involved in an accident with a motorcycle and seriously injured a husband and wife is not liable for their injuries. On September 21, 2009, Shannon Colonna was texting her boyfriend, Kyle Best, 18, who was driving a Chevy truck in Mine Hill, New Jersey. Best was in the process of returning one of Colonna’s texts when his truck struck a motorcycle occupied by David and Linda Kubert. In the car accident, David Kubert had his left leg torn off above the knee, and Linda Kubert suffered injuries to her left leg which ultimately led to amputation.

David Kubert described that they observed Best holding the steering wheel with his elbows and with his head down. The Chevy truck swerved across a double yellow line and struck the Kuberts’ motorcycle head on. Mr. Kubert saw his left leg torn off and Ms. Kubert observed that the bones in her left leg were coming out of her pants.

The Kuberts’ lawyer sued both Mr. Best and Ms. Colonna, arguing that although Ms. Colonna was not in the vehicle at the time of the accident, she was “electronically present” and knew that Mr. Best was driving while responding to her texts. Phone records showed that Colonna and Best had texted each other 62 times the day of the accident, including just prior to the impact. At a deposition during the “discovery” stage of the case, however, Ms. Colonna denied any knowledge that Mr. Best was driving as he was answering her text messages.

In the criminal case, Best pled guilty to distracted driving, acknowledging that he was using his cell phone and responding to a series of text messages he received from Colonna around the time of the accident. The judge ordered Mr. Best to speak at 14 high schools about the dangers of texting while driving. He must also pay $775.00 in fines. No action has been taken against Best’s driver’s license at this time.

38 states across the Unites States have banned texting while driving, including New York in 2011.

State Superior Court Judge David Rand agreed with the defense that Ms. Colonna could not be held legally responsible for the accident and horrendous injuries suffered by the Kuberts. It appears that Judge Rand determined that his role is to interpret the existing law, not create new laws, and that if state legislators want to ban sending texts to drivers, they will have to pass a law to that effect. Clearly, however, the trend is moving in the direction of more enforcement against distracted driving, and the next logical step may be to institute liability against those who cause distracted driving as well as those who commit the violation. However, in this case, the bottom line is that if Best had simply waited until he stopped driving to respond, or even pulled over, the accident would never have occurred.

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Last week, there was a fatal accident in a Brooklyn apartment complex partially owned by ex- MLB first baseman Mo Vaughn, when 12 year old Yakim McDaniels was killed while playing “chicken” on a roll-up gate. Apparently, McDaniels and two other teens were riding the gate as it proceeded upward. The two other boys jumped off, but McDaniel’s hand got caught in the gate, he could not dislodge it, and his head and upper body was forced into the mechanism, fracturing his neck and killing him.

The gate has a sensor by which it will not continue downward if pedestrians are underneath it, but nothing to prevent it from rising. McDaniels suffered severe head trauma and had to be cut out of the gate before he could receive medical treatment. He was taken to Brookdale Hospital where he was pronounced dead within hours of the May 6, 2012 accident.

Residents of the area interviewed shortly after the accident stated that they had complained to Omni New York on numerous occasions that kids were playing on the gates, to no avail. Supposedly, management had set up a basketball program on the premises but it was closed by management due to tenant complaints about noise. Omni office manager Arleigh Hardy noted that there is a playground on the property, but acknowledged that it was for younger children. She stated that it was a “tragic accident”, and claimed that the owner will pay for funeral expenses.

There is a possibility that the family will sue for the wrongful death of Yakim McDaniels, and pain and suffering (if it can be proven) before he died. When someone dies almost instantaneously, the only way to prove “conscious” pain and suffering is to obtain witness testimony that the fatally injured person either complained of pain, or even moaned in pain, before they died. Even a few seconds of conscious pain and suffering can be compensable.

However, this will be a difficult case to establish negligence in due to the issue of what is called “comparative negligence.” Comparative negligence is the responsibility of the person who is suing for injuries for causing their own injuries. (in this instance, a family member would have to be appointed to be Yakim’s legal guardian for a lawsuit to proceed). If however, management received numerous letters and complaints documenting the dangerousness of the activity and failed to prevent it from continuing, there is a possibility that there could be a finding of negligence against Omni New York as well.

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After an investigation by the New York City Department of Buildings, a determination has been made that the December 14, 2011 fatal accident at 285 Madison Avenue in Manhattan involving 41 year old advertising executive Suzanne Hart was caused by a disabled safety circuit. The tragic elevator accident occurred at approximately 10:00 am last December 14th, when Ms. Hart attempted to board elevator 9 at 285 Madison Avenue in Manhattan on her way to work at Young & Rubicam, where she was employed as a director of new business. When Ms. Hart was partially in the elevator, the car suddenly lurched upward, and her body was pinned in the elevator shaft between the first and second floors of the building.

There were two passengers on the elevator when the fatal accident occurred. They were trapped in the elevator and required rescue workers to free them from the car. Transel Elevator Inc. had been servicing the 13 elevators in the building pursuant to an agreement with the owners of the building, Young and Rubicam. On December 11, 2011, two of the Transel employees disabled a safety circuit on elevator number 9 in order to perform upgrade work on the elevator. However, in a clear safety breach, the maintenance workers forgot to enable the circuit before placing the elevator back in service.

Apparently video depicts the two Transel employees leaving the building at 9:55 am on December 14th, and Ms. Hart stepping onto the elevator one minute later. The car apparently lurched upward with its doors still open. It has been determined that the workers bypassed the door safety circuit with a jumper wire.

Robert D. LiMandri, the Commissioner of the NYC Building Department, stated: “These workers and their supervisors failed to follow the most basic safety procedures, and their carelessness cost a woman her life.” The three safety violations according to city officials were:
1. Failing to re-enable the safety circuit after completing the upgrade;
2. Failing to post a sign that the work was being performed on the elevator; and

3. Failing to contact the Buildings Department to schedule a mandatory inspection prior to placing the elevator back in service.

Transel’s license has been suspended pending a hearing, where it is possible that the license will be permanently revoked. It faces 23 violations with minimum penalties of $117,000. Transel reports on its website that it services 2,500 elevators in New York City. There are approximately 60,000 elevators in the entire city and there were 43 reported accidents in 2011. After the Hart accident, the Buildings Department performed an inspection of 658 elevators in 169 New York City buildings, 370 of which were maintained by Transel. 135 violations were issued at that time, with 71 issued to Transel.

Since the accident, the building manager replaced Transel with PS Marcato to maintain the elevators in the building. Transel previously had many high profile clients including the Graybar Building, the BMW Building, Carnegie Hall, the Hippodrome Building and the Plaza Hotel. No lawsuit has been filed by the estate of Suzanne Hart as of the date of this article, but that certainly seems likely, particularly after the damning results of the Buildings Department investigation.

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Raymond Knox, the former owner of The Paddock in Patterson, New York, has commenced a federal lawsuit claiming false arrest and malicious prosecution arising out of a tragic fatal DWI accident case on Super Bowl Sunday in 2007 involving his bar manager. The background is that on February 4, 2007, Sandra Longchamps, an off duty bar manager at The Paddock in Patterson, New York, allegedly was served between 12-14 drinks, and then was a driver on Route 22 involved in a head on collision with a minivan operated by 34 year old Kirsten Henry. Ms. Henry’s husband and three children were passengers in the car. Both Longchamps and Ms. Henry died in the accident, and Henry’s three children and husband suffered serious injuries but survived.

Knox was convicted in a bench trial in Patterson, New York before Judge John King in March of 2008 of the misdemeanor charges of allowing Longchamps to be served alcohol when she was visibly intoxicated pursuant to New York State General Obligations Law Section 11-101, and allowing gambling in the tavern. The trial included testimony by the County’s toxicology expert Betsy Spratt, who reported that the autopsy results showed Ms. Longchamps’ blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to be between a 0.34 to 0.41%, several times the legal limit of 0.08%. Victim impact statements were read to the Court by members of the Henry family, and Mr. Knox was sentenced to nine months in jail.

Mr. Knox served approximately five months of the nine month sentence and was released for good behavior. In 2009, the Appellate Term in the 2nd Department (which covers local Courts in Putnam County and other lower Hudson Valley Courts, among others), reversed the conviction. Knox’ attorney had claimed that Longchamps was in fact drinking at another establishment that night, the Alpine Restaurant, and that the investigating officer, Sgt. Timothy Gannon of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, did not investigate this information. The attorney representing the County and Sgt. Gannon claims that Longchamps was never at the Alpine Restaurant, (he asserts that witnesses never saw Longchamps at the Alpine that evening), states that Knox was not denied any rights under the U.S. Constitution, and claims that Officer Gannon had probable cause to arrest Mr. Knox.

The New York Court of Claims, which has jurisdiction over all cases against New York State, awarded Mr. Knox $150,000 in 2011 for being “unjustly convicted and imprisoned.”

In the federal lawsuit, Mr. Knox claims that he never would have been arrested if the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office conducted a proper investigation, including speaking with all potential witnesses from the Paddock and the Alpine. He is seeking compensation for the five months that he was falsely arrested and imprisoned. Mr. Knox has also claimed malicious prosecution. In order to be successful on the malicious prosecution claim, Mr. Knox must prove that there was no probable cause to commence the lawsuit against him, that the lawsuit was commenced with malice, that the case was dismissed, and that he has suffered damages as a result of the prosecution.

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Several of the surviving passengers of the Costa Concordia cruise ship have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Miami, Florida, where the parent corporation of Costa Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines has its headquarters. According to the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Miami lawsuit, the case could soon be amended to include hundreds of plaintiffs, seeking compensatory and punitive damages in an amount of $450 million dollars. Punitive damages are only awarded when there is proof of egregious, outrageous conduct on the part of defendants, and are not only difficult to obtain but not covered by insurance, certainly a concern for any corporation.

The lawsuit filed in Florida seeks damages on at least four causes of action, maritime negligence, gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent retention. The last cause of action is based on the fact that it is alleged that Costa Concordia was negligent in continuing to employ someone, Captain Francesco Schettino, who was not competent to meet the duties and obligations as the ship’s captain.

As most of the world knows by now, on January 13, 2012, a cruise ship carrying 3,000 passengers and over 1,000 crew members crashed into rocks and rolled onto its side off an island on Italy’s Tuscan coast. 16 people died and at least 16 are still missing. It is rumored that the ship’s captain Schettino diverted from the ship’s intended path to allow one of the crew members to wave to family members onshore, at which time the ship struck rock and flipped onto its side. Schettino apparently abandoned ship prior to the passengers disembarking and is now being held on house arrest for causing the fatal accident and abandoning the ship.

There are some major difficulties with the lawsuit against Carnival, however. To begin with, the fine print on the tickets purchased and signed by the passengers has a “choice of forum” clause which requires that the lawsuits be filed in Italy. This provision is particularly onerous for several reasons, including the financial and practical problems of commencing a lawsuit in Genoa, Italy. (where Costa Concordia is based). Italian law requires that plaintiffs post a judiciary tax that is a certain percentage of potential damages, and even more significantly, the Costa ticket contains a clause that its liability for death or injury to a passenger is limited to approximately $71,000, an amount which pales in comparison to the amount that could be awarded to the family member of the decedent of a fatal accident in the United States. In the United States, a wrongful death claim could potentially include damages for pain and suffering, loss of parental guidance, and pecuniary loss, which could be huge if the person killed had a substantial income and was supporting a family.

Another issue with commencing lawsuits in Florida or other U.S. forums is that crew members likely have contracts which require that they first submit to arbitration before instituting litigation. Traditionally, arbitration awards, issued by purportedly objective judges, are much smaller than amounts decided upon by juries, who would be much more likely to consider the emotional and devastating impact of the injuries to passengers and their surviving family members.
In an effort to ward off litigation, Costa Concordia has offered the passengers a sum of 11,000 euros, or $14,400, as total compensation for all personal injury, property and financial damages, which is without question a paltry amount, particularly for those who were grievously injured or to family members of those who died.

Another lawsuit, filed by crew member Gary Lobaton, was commenced in an Illinois Court on January 26. This suit alleges that Costa Concordia was negligent due to an unsafe evacuation of passengers and crew and seeks 100 million in damages. The Lobaton lawsuit is seeking class action status on behalf of all passengers and crew members. If past history is any guide regarding the pending cases, maritime experts note that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the choice of forum clauses in the past, which is obviously not good news for plaintiffs and their attorneys. If the Costa cruise had touched port in any U.S. city, there would be a jurisdictional basis to file the cases in the U.S., but the ship left port near Rome and was headed for Barcelona and Majorca when the tragedy occurred.

In an 11th U.S. Circuit Court appellate case last August, the Court sustained a forum clause in a case in which a California plaintiff who broke her leg on a Regent Seven Seas cruise ship would be required to sue in Paris rather than Fort Lauderdale, Florida, pursuant to a clause in her passenger ticket. One other possibility to resolve the multitude of claims would be for Carnival and Costa to set up a claims fund similar to that developed by BP after the Gulf of Mexico spill, which would involve plaintiffs agreeing to accept an award from the fund in lieu of a case against the cruise line. The advantages are for the company in avoiding jury trials and to the passengers in obtaining a settlement without protracted litigation.

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On December 14, 2011, 41 year old advertising executive Suzanne Hart was tragically killed in an elevator accident at 285 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Apparently, as Ms. Hart was stepping into the elevator, the car suddenly accelerated upward with the door still open, pinning her along the wall between the first and second floors of the building. The horrific accident was witnessed by two other occupants in the elevator who were helpless to prevent the accident, as it happened before either person could reach the stop button inside the elevator.

There are approximately 60,000 elevators in New York City, and according to a December 15, 2011 article by Cara Buckley and Andy Newman in the New York Times, there were 53 reported accidents last year, of which 3 were fatal. reports that fatal elevator accidents are very rare, with approximately 27 people killed annually in elevator related incidents based upon data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Ironically, considering the rarity of fatalities in elevators, Ms. Hart’s death comes only one week after a 48 year old California State University employee Annette Lujan was killed when she attempted to escape a stuck elevator and the elevator suddenly dropped.

In the Hart case, New York City investigators have determined that the 13 elevators in the twenty eight story, 85 year old building had at least 14 open violations, although allegedly none were safety related. Further, inspection records reportedly reveal 56 violations dating back to 2001, of which 34 were for “failure to maintain elevators.” Apparently, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has been requesting more stringent scrutiny of the elevators at 285 Madison Avenue for several years, and he noted: “I’m very concerned that over a 12 month period, this building received ‘unsatisfactory’ four times on inspections to their elevators.”
Further investigation has uncovered that the building’s elevators were serviced by Transel Elevator Inc., who had last conducted a full inspection of the particular elevator in question in June of 2011, finding no safety issues with the elevators, according to New York City Building Department spokesman Tony Sclafani. Interestingly, however, Transel wrote a report in December of 2010 in which it described the elevators at 285 Madison Avenue as “unsatisfactory.” According to the International Business Times on December 15, 2011, Transel’s representative refused to give details as to the basis for the “unsatisfactory” rating. Scott Stringer noted that it was unclear if the unsatisfactory rating was “for a missing light bulb in the elevator” or “was there real structural damage which caused this horrific accident?”

Most recently, Fox New York is reporting that the elevator in question was being worked on by Transel mechanics within hours of the accident. If this proves to be true, there are two likely causes for the fatal accident. First, there could be human error. Second, there could be a faulty relay on the elevator controller. Typically, elevator mechanics inspect elevators by riding the elevators for 15 to 20 minutes, up and down, and stopping at various floors. They check the door operation by placing their hands in front of the doors to ensure that they immediately return to the open position.

According to Patrick Carrajat, an elevator expert retained to investigate this accident, the NY State Building Code requires that elevators be inspected 5 times over a two year period. However, due to budgetary constraints, presently elevators are not inspected more than once annually in New York State. New York, unlike many other states such as Connecticut, Florida, and Massachusetts, does not require that elevator inspectors be licensed. Further, it was only in the last year that New York mandated that elevator inspections be independently witnessed. Previously, the elevator inspections could be conducted by the same companies that were maintaining the elevators, obviously leading to question marks as to their objectivity.

We will report further on this fatal elevator accident as more information is released by the Department of Building and other investigative agencies.

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