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The Preventable Dangers of Residential Elevators

For more than 70 years, a defect that allows small children to get caught in between the doors of residential elevators has been known to executives in the elevator industry. Instead of working to fix the problem and notify homeowners, they have fought back against regulations even as children are being severely injured and killed. The Washington Post recently published an article about the dangerous defect. In the article, they stated that corporate memos going back to at least 1943, and lawsuits against the elevator companies going back to 2001, highlighted this hazard.

Although it may seem rare to have a residential elevator, an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 U.S. homes and other buildings are equipt with residential elevators. The danger in these residential elevators is caused by a gap in between their outer swing door and interior accordion or gate door. This gap is too small for adults, but most children can fit easily. Most building codes regulate that the space between railings for balconies, pool fences, and stairways needs to be four inches to prevent the heads and chests of most children to squeeze through. However, the nation’s residential elevator safety code allowed for up to five inches between the two doors. This extra inch greatly increases the chances that a child would be able to get trapped between the elevators’ doors. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), an industry group that sets voluntary safety standards elevators as well as other products, codified the five-inch gap. Then, in the early 1900s, with the introduction of accordion-style elevator doors, the gap size increased due to the peaks and valleys of the accordion doors.

According to a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report, at least eight children have been killed and two others seriously injured in elevator entrapments since 1981. However, since elevator accident records can be spotty, some elevator experts suspect the toll to be significantly higher. For example, one company Otis Elevator, who is the world’s largest elevator company, discovered that its swing-door elevators had killed or injured 34 children between the years of 1983 and 1993 just in New Jersey and southern New York alone.

After this realization, Otis sent safety brochures and warning letters across the industry, they published an article in an effort to shine a light on the widespread problem in Elevator World, the industry’s trade publication, in 2003 and then again in 2006. In addition to their attempts to alert others in the industry, they paid to install space guards on all of its elevators that posed an entrapment risk. Unfortunately, not all companies took the same steps as Otis and continued to turn a blind eye to the problem.

With the door gap becoming a more publicly known hazard, several elevator experts tried to change the nation’s elevator safety code to shrink the door gap back in 2005 but all their attempts were rejected. It was not until 2017, after even more tragic injuries, deaths, and lawsuits, that the elevator code finally changed. However, the new regulation to only allow for a four-inch gap only applied only to new installations and there was no plan to fix the hundreds of thousands of existing elevators or to notify the property owners of the defect or the solution of installing a $100 space guard.

It is heartbreaking when known defects and hazards get overlooked by corporations who are more interested in their bottom line than peoples safety. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence and many corporations resist making necessary changes until faced with lawsuits and public scrutiny. If you or a loved one has been injured due to unsafe premises or a faulty product, you may be entitled to compensation to cover medical expenses, missed work, and even pain and suffering. Our skilled legal team is here to help with matters like this and can take on the stress of dealing with medical bills and insurance companies so you can focus on recovery. If you have questions about your unique situation, call one of our offices for a free consultation:

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