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Can you seek damages in an elevator accident?

It’s difficult to imagine being stuck in an elevator. You’re on your way up to the office, and the elevator chugs to a stop. Maybe the lights flicker. Worse, they go out. You’re suspended by cables high above the ground, in a 36 x 48” box. You hit the buttons, but they don’t seem to do anything. Maybe there’s a broken call box, just a nest of wires. You panic.

Even more difficult to imagine: being injured in an elevator. But it happens. In 1994, for example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated roughly 10,000 “elevator injuries requiring hospitalization” that year alone.

In fact, elevator passenger deaths are not as uncommon as you might think. According to a report by the Center for Construction Research and Training, there were an average of six elevator-related passenger deaths every year in the U.S. between 1992-2003.

In 2003, Dr. Hitoshi Nikaidoh was decapitated when “a simple miswiring” caused a hospital elevator’s doors to close on him and continue its climb to the next floor. Nikaidoh’s family settled with the elevator company for an undisclosed amount.

But elevator accidents aren’t always so violent. Sometimes they aren’t violent at all, but psychologically damaging.

In 1999, a production manager for BusinessWeek got stuck in his office building’s elevator for 41 hours.

In 2018, six people stepped onto an elevator on the 95th floor of Chicago’s fourth-tallest building at 875 North Washington. When a hoist rope snapped, the elevator plummeted all the way down to the 11th floor.

A few more considerations

In the event of personal injury or emotional distress, a number of parties may be held liable. The elevator company/manufacturer, the building’s maintenance company and the owners of the building itself could be at fault.

To understand if you can seek damages, you must first understand when:

  • Stuck in an elevator: This depends. If you get stuck in a malfunctioning elevator and have suffered emotional distress, courts will take the length of time and other circumstances into consideration.
  • The elevator plummets: Here’s a scary one. If the elevator free falls and you’re physically injured, you can seek damages.
  • Eyewitness: If you witness a tragic elevator-related accident, you might be eligible for compensation. When Dr. Nikaidoh died, his coworker was trapped in the elevator with the man’s remains for over an hour. Understandably, she sued and settled for an undisclosed amount.

Like all methods of transportation, elevators can be scary. It’s important to know that your rights as a passenger are protected and taken seriously.

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