Every day, many people ride escalators and elevators. It may be necessary or simply convenient and the average rider does not think twice before boarding. Yet, escalators and elevators injure and kill numerous riders per day. According to the National Elevator Industry, Inc., in the United States, about 210 billion riders travel on elevators or escalators each year. That breaks down to over 325 million daily elevator riders and over 245 million daily escalator riders. Tragically, incidents involving elevators or escalators seriously injure about 17,000 people each year. Whether the cause is defective design and manufacture, or negligent inspection, maintenance, or repair, one thing is clear: these tragedies can and should be prevented.
Many elevator-related injuries occur when riders exit, because the bottom of the elevator is not flush with the floor. The height discrepancy creates an unexpected and dangerous trip hazard. Hand, forearm, foot, and lower limb injuries may occur when riders attempt to stop elevator doors from closing, so they can board the elevator car. Doors that close too quickly or too forcefully may also cause injury. Doors that lack proper sensors also cause injury. Indeed, unkept or defective elevators present numerous hazards. An extreme example is when faulty or worn elevator cables break, causing the elevator to drop to the ground in a free fall and resulting in catastrophic injuries and death to its riders.
Unkept or defective escalators are equally hazardous. Injuries can result from shoes or clothing getting caught in the escalator’s moving parts, pulling appendages or body parts into the machinery. This results in significant permanent injuries including fractures, lacerations of tendons, mangled and amputated appendages and worse. For this reason, openings (“apertures”) between treads and risers, and between steps and balustrades, must be designed, manufactured and kept at a minimum in order to prevent a rider’s shoes, clothing, belongings, and body parts from being caught between them. Injured escalator riders are most often children, because they are less stable, are fascinated by moving stairs and do not always keep their fingers and toes away from edges. Children also struggle to get on and off escalators, which can result in injury.
Most escalator and elevator injuries are caused by worn, damaged, or faulty equipment and can be avoided with reasonable inspection, servicing, and maintenance.
Property and building owners have a duty to inspect, service, and maintain their properties in a safe condition. Importantly, in California, an elevator/escalator owner/operator is a “common carrier” because it is a “carrier of persons for reward.” As a common carrier, the owner/operator must use the highest care and the vigilance of a very cautious person—not just a reasonable person—to avoid harm to riders.
Along with owners and operators, elevator and escalator designers, manufacturers, and maintenance companies must all use care to avoid harm to riders. If they fail to do so, they must be held accountable. If we stop the wrongful conduct, we can stop the injuries and deaths.