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. ConsumerWatch.com 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.
If you or a loved one are injured in an elevator accident, construction accident, car crash or trip and fall, contact the Westchester County Personal Injury Lawyers online or toll free at 888-761-7633 for a free initial consultation with an experienced trial attorney who will fight the insurance companies to maximize compensation for your injuries, lost earnings (past and future) and medical expenses.