Virtually any multi-story building in Florida will have elevators. Not only are the elevators easier than taking the stairs but the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requires businesses to be accessible for individuals with disabilities. Multi-story buildings accomplish this requirement to make the building accessible by providing elevators to move between the floors. Unfortunately, the elevators do not always work as intended and when they malfunction serious injuries can occur. According to the CDC, more than 17,000 people are injured in incidents involving elevators every year.
Who is responsible for the elevators in a building?
Florida has specific laws regarding elevators that can be found in Florida Statute Chapter 399. The law in Florida says that the elevator owner is the entity responsible for the safe operation of an elevator. The text of the statute can be found below:
As you can see in the law, the owner may assign the responsibilities to maintain the elevator to an outside company. However, that does not relieve the owner of the ultimate responsibility to keep the elevator safe. In Florida, owners of elevators have what is called a "non-delegable duty" relating to the safe operation and proper maintenance of an elevator. See Vogel v. Cornerstone Doctors Condominium Association, Inc.. This means that even though the building owner hires a separate company to maintain the elevator, if the elevator malfunctions, the building owner is still responsible.
Who do I sue if I am injured on an elevator?
As we discussed above, the owners of an elevator have the ultimate responsibility to ensure the safe operation of the elevator. So if you are injured on an elevator, you will certainly want to sue the owner. If you don't know who owns a particular elevator, many counties and municipalities maintain public records on elevators that are accessible to you. It is imperative that you quickly find out the owner of an elevator so that you can send out letters to the owner asking them to maintain evidence relating to your incident and/or injury. For instance, many elevators have cameras inside the elevators and you would certainly want to obtain the video of your injury as this will be critical in prosecuting your case. If you are unfamiliar with how to determine the owner of an elevator, contact us and we can assist you in finding the owner's information and preserving critical information.
Also, building owners will hire maintenance companies to take care of the elevators. This is because typically the property management personnel in charge of maintaining a building will not have the expertise to properly maintain such a complex piece of equipment. If a company separate from the elevator owner was hired to maintain the elevators, you would also want to file suit against that entity as well. Although the owner has the final responsibility for the safe operation of the elevator, if they assign that responsibility to another company that separate company will be responsible. This company will likely have a trove of documents that you will want to examine to determine if there were any prior similar problems with the elevator.
What types of malfunctions occur on elevators?
There are several types of malfunctions that can occur on an elevator that can cause an injury. Some of the most common malfunctions and causes of malfunctions we see are:
- Elevator fails to level at the floor
- Elevator equipment falls through the roof
- Faulty elevator doors
- Faulty wiring leading to irregular operation including sudden stopping or starting
- Faulty wiring leading to sudden increases or decreases in speed
- Elevator fails to stop and bottoms out
- Snapped elevator cable
- Worn sheaves
- Power failures
- Misaligned motor drives
- Contaminated lubrication
Any one of these malfunctions can cause serious injury. However, simply because a malfunction occurred does not mean that you win your case. The law in Florida is that you still have to prove negligence against the individual or entity responsible for the safe operation of the elevator. In a case out of the Second District Court of Appeals in Florida the Court held that just because an elevator fell "does not, of itself, establish negligence on the part of [the defendant]." In order to prove negligence, it is important that you hire an attorney that has experience handling these types of cases. Your attorney will likely need to hire an expert to inspect the elevator to determine the cause of the malfunction and to determine if the malfunction was the result of negligence.
Some courts have said that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is available in elevator injury cases. For example, in Ferguson v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., the Third District Court of Appeals in Florida wrote that an elevator cab is "uniquely under the control and maintenance of the defendants and the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is particularly applicable in elevator cab cases." However, if you are going to attempt to prove your case under this theory, you better have evidence that the incident would not have occurred in the absence of negligence from the owner/operator of the elevator:
"Where plaintiff tripped and fell while exiting an elevator which, when it stopped and opened, was not level with the floor, but where responsible causes for the fall or the failure to level, other than negligence on the part of the defendant, were not excluded by the evidence presented, the trial court was correct in denying a request that the jury be instructed on res ipsa loquitur."
Negligence Per Se
Florida law does not permit a person injured on an elevator to invoke the principle of strict liability. Strict liability is a principle in Florida that applies in some cases and relieves the injured person of the responsibility of proving negligence. Although this doctrine is not available in elevator injury cases, an individual injured on an elevator can use the doctrine of negligence per se. In Reliance Elec. Co. v. Humphrey the Court wrote:
"Elevators are commonplace. Indeed, in many buildings they provide the only reasonable mode of conveyance. Yet the passengers—the class of individuals for whom the statute was enacted—have no say in questions of maintenance, repair and other safety precautions. Thus, the task of making elevators safe necessarily falls upon the owner or agent who is in a position to undertake proper maintenance. The proper execution of this duty is of paramount importance. Consequently, it is consistent with the body of law cited above to hold that a violation of this statute constitutes negligence per se."
This means that if you can prove that the owner of an elevator or the company responsible for maintaining the elevator violated the statutes in Florida regulating maintenance of an elevator, that is evidence of negligence. In order to prove this, you will need to obtain documents during the discovery phase of your case involving the maintenance and repairs performed on the elevator. You will also need an expert to go and inspect the elevator to determine if the elevator was maintained appropriately. Just because the maintenance documents say the elevator was maintained, that does not necessarily mean that it was done correctly.
Contact Bodenheimer Personal Injury Law Firm, P.A. if you have been injured as the result of a malfunctioning elevator
If you have suffered an injury as a result of a malfunctioning elevator and you are looking for a elevator injury lawyer in Florida, contact Bodenheimer Personal Injury Law Firm, P.A. We have experience handling these types of cases and we know how to collect and preserve evidence that will help make your case better. Although we are located in Hollywood, Florida, we take cases across the state of Florida. We are open 24 hours every day (including weekends) for consultation regarding your case. You can reach us at (954) 712-7402, [email protected], or you can fill out a contact form on this website.