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Elevator Bites Man
by Ron Davis

A lawsuit that resulted from an elevator accident at a New York City shopping center has taken a twist that puts the center’s owner on the spot.

The shopping center, located in the Brooklyn area, is owned by the city of New York. The city in turn leases the property to a company named the Gallery at Fulton Street, LLC. And the elevator accident occurred at the shopping center to a wheelchair-bound customer.

That customer was familiar with the shopping center from previous visits. But on the day of the accident, he was unable to avoid an injury as he entered the elevator. Evidently, the elevator door closed before he was fully inside. The door struck his leg, requiring subsequent medical treatment.

The customer sued, arguing that the elevator was defective. Moreover, he said that he had previously warned center personnel that the elevator door was a hazard. He claimed that he had experienced the door prematurely closing when he used the elevator during past visits. But he added that his warning was apparently ignored.

In response to the charge of the injured man, the elevator maintenance company used by the shopping center produced certain “internal” records. Those records, however, were based on a review of the company’s maintenance efforts and did not cite any specific elevator code provisions that might apply to the Gallery at Fulton Street accident.

Nevertheless, at the ensuing trial, attorneys for both the shopping center and the elevator-maintenance company asked the court to reject the claim of the injured man. And a New York court agreed with those attorneys and dismissed the lawsuit.

But on appeal of that ruling, a New York appellate court reversed the lower court, explaining that the elevator company’s maintenance records were broad and nonspecific and did not pinpoint any elevator safety code provisions. Such records, the judges added, were insufficient to establish that the shopping center’s elevator door, which was serviced by the company, was functioning properly at the time it allegedly closed on the customer’s leg.

In short, the judges continued, “The Gallery at Fulton Street failed to sustain its burden of making a showing of its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. It is undisputed that as the lessee and operator of the mall, the Gallery had a duty to maintain and repair the elevators in the premises and thus can be found liable if it had actual or constructive notice of a defect in the subject elevator. Here, the Gallery’s evidence submissions, including the testimony of the injured customer who claimed to have made prior complaints that the door of the subject elevator closed too quickly, were insufficient to eliminate all triable issues of fact as to whether it had actual or constructive notice of the allegedly malfunctioning door.”

(Green v. City of New York, 2010 WL 3023984 [N.Y.A.D.2 Dept.])

Decision: August 2010
Published: September 2010



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