Liability for Georgia Elevator Accident

elevatorIn a recent Georgia appellate case, the plaintiff had been hurt while riding an elevator at a medical center. He sued the medical center and the contractor that maintained the elevator.

The case arose when the plaintiff went to pick up his wife and daughter from the seventh floor. The daughter was recovering from surgery on the prior day. The plaintiff and another person got into the third elevator and pushed buttons for their floors. The elevator went up to the third or fourth floor but then crashed downward into something solid. The plaintiff grabbed a handrail that stopped him from falling to the floor of the elevator. The other passenger tried to get the door open and pushed the emergency button.

The person who came to help them told them the elevator can was 1 1/2 feet below the floor level, and he was going to get assistance. Twenty minutes later, several people were helping, and from inside the elevator, the passengers could feel shaking. The floors opened five minutes later, with the elevator on the ninth floor and the car level with the floor. The plaintiff’s neck, knees, legs, and feet were hurt in the process.

An assistant facilities director called the state to report what had happened. Elevator technicians met the inspectors to determine what had caused the accident. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it and couldn’t recreate what had happened to make it malfunction. They decided the cause was unknown and put the elevator back into service.

The medical center had purchased the highest level of service plan from the elevator company. The elevator company performed regular preventive maintenance and conducted safety tests on a monthly, yearly, and five-year basis. One of its mechanics was at the hospital 40 hours a week. The medical center also conducted monthly inspections.

A week before the plaintiff’s accident, the elevator company had performed its five-year safety test, which took 1-2 days per car. The elevator on which the accident happened passed the five-year safety test. The medical center mechanic had examined the elevator five days before the accident and found no problems.

The facilities director would later testify that he had personal knowledge about the maintenance of the hospital and that no problem had been reported with the elevator between the date of the last inspection and the accident date. The plaintiff’s expert looked over the elevator account history report, which showed the company’s employees had answered calls about the elevator 5-6 times during the months before the accident. Two employees had even responded to a call in which elevator doors were slamming, and another had responded to a call that the third elevator was stuck on a particular floor, among other things. The expert testified that this showed the third elevator had a history of problems due to a misaligned clutch.

The lower court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The plaintiff argued that the court had ignored evidence of a defect. The appellate court reasoned that the plaintiff hadn’t shown the maintenance and inspection program was inadequate, and it complied with the pertinent codes. The plaintiff argued the medical center was vicariously liable for the elevator company’s negligent inspection. However, he hadn’t shown that the elevator company had independent knowledge of a problem or that the program to keep up the elevator was insufficient, so his vicarious liability argument lacked merit.

The plaintiff also argued that the lower court should have given him a presumption of spoliation arising from the center’s violation of OCGA § 8-2-106. This law provides that an elevator involved in an accident is supposed to be removed from service after the accident and not repaired until inspected by a certified inspector for the enforcement authority. When a defendant doesn’t comply with this rule, the court is supposed to presume the evidence would have favored the plaintiff. In this case, however, the appellate court reasoned that there was no self-contradiction or factual issue left open from which a presumption related to spoliation could be made.

For these and other reasons, the ruling was affirmed.

The Atlanta premises liability attorneys at the Simon Law Firm have many years of experience with a wide variety of negligence actions, and they are ready to help you assess and bring a potential claim. If you’ve recently been injured on another party’s property and believe it may be a result of negligence, feel free to contact us and arrange a complimentary case evaluation.

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