Claims of Elevator Accident Victim Permitted to Move Forward Toward Trial
A recent New York Supreme Court decision shows that, even when property owners conduct regular inspections and maintenance of their property prior to an accident, they could still face liability for injuries when the maintenance failed to make that property safe for visitors. The decision was issued in the case titled Ramirez v. Northern Blvd. 4818 LLC.
Cleotilde Juarez Ramirez, the plaintiff, was visiting the Shops on Northern in Long Island City with her family on the day of her accident. Her husband, Alejandro Amador Perez, was pushing her year-old son in a stroller, and she was holding her four-year-old son when the family boarded an escalator inside the mall after an elevator didn’t come when called. Perez held the stroller on the stair above where Ramirez stood with her other son.
When the family was about a quarter of the way up the escalator, Perez heard a pop, and Ramirez was struck in the leg by a piece of metal sticking out of the side of the escalator. She fell to her back, and in the commotion, Perez let go of the stroller, which became lodged between the walls of the escalator. Ramirez and her son had to pass underneath the stroller to exit the escalator, and a mall employee used the emergency stop button to disable the escalator so that the father could retrieve his other son. Perez then examined and took photos of the elevator at the site of his wife’s initial injury. He found that the piece of metal that hit his wife in the leg was covered in duct tape.
Ramirez filed a personal injury lawsuit against the mall and escalator maintenance company, claiming that the escalator had been negligently maintained, and that the property owners were liable to her for failing to warn her of the hidden hazard of the duct-taped portion of the escalator. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss Ramirez’s claims, arguing that they had performed regular inspections and maintenance on the escalator and had no notice that it was defective.
In order to find a property owner legally responsible for injuries suffered by a visitor to their property, the injured person must show that the property owner knew or should have known about a hazardous condition on their property, but failed to correct it or provide warning of the hazard to visitors. Conversely, if the property owner can show that they conducted inspections and maintenance of their property at reasonable intervals, but did not uncover the hazard, then they won’t be responsible for injuries the hazard causes, as there was nothing they reasonably could have done to prevent those injuries.
The defendants argued that Ramirez’s claim should be dismissed because they had no way to know that the escalator would injure her. To support their motion, they presented evidence of their regular inspections and repairs of the escalator. A maintenance company employee testified to having performed a repair on the escalator in the months before the accident, though not on the portion that failed. He explained that he had seen the duct-taped portion of the escalator in the past, but didn’t know how it had gotten there, and had even begun to peel the tape back to find out if there was any damage underneath and if all screws attaching the panel of metal were intact. He decided to leave the tape in place, however, when he considered that the property owners would be annoyed by the sticky residue left behind by the tape, and when it appeared to him that there were no screws missing under the tape. A janitor for the mall testified to having inspected the elevator just hours before the accident, and to finding it to be in good working order.
Ramirez countered this evidence with testimony from a buildings expert witness who had inspected the escalator and the records surrounding its maintenance. This expert argued that a piece of metal would not protrude from the escalator unless some aspect of the maintenance or inspection of the escalator had been negligent. He also pointed out that the maintenance company employee could not have known whether the escalator and any screws were intact under the tape if he hadn’t removed it, and that the damage must have arisen since the escalator’s last inspection by the city, as there was no way that a city inspector would have approved an escalator that had been repaired with duct tape.
The judge ultimately sided with Ramirez and rejected the defendants’ summary judgment motion. While the opinion acknowledged that the defendants had indeed regularly maintained the escalator, the judge pointed out that the duct tape itself could be seen as a form of notice that some hazard might exist that precipitated the use of the tape. Since they had this notice but failed to take steps to repair or warn of this hazard, the court ruled that the defendants may bear liability for injuries that were caused by the hazard.
If you’ve been hurt in an escalator accident in New York and want the help of a skilled and effective attorney to get the compensation you need for your injuries, contact the Hudson Valley personal injury attorneys at Rusk, Wadlin, Heppner & Martuscello, LLP for a free evaluation of your claims, at 845-331-4100 (Kingston), or 845-236-4411 (Marlboro).