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Can I Sue if I Get Stuck in an Elevator?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled more than 100,000 residential elevators just from 2021 to 2022. While it may be uplifting to hear that the government acted before more people could get hurt, many people still fall victim to the ups and downs of the elevator world every day.

If you suffer harm in an elevator accident due to the negligence of the building owner or elevator manufacturer, you can sue them.

Keep in mind that it's not enough that you would suffer an inconvenience from getting momentarily stuck in an elevator. You can sue for being stuck if you reasonably suffered from a physical injury or emotional distress, which usually means there was a serious elevator malfunction.

Elevator injuries can be handled by most personal injury attorneys, but it's better to consult with a personal injury lawyer with experience in premises liability law.

Types of Elevator Injury Claims

Let's pretend that our imaginary friend, Alex, is on and about their shopping day. Alex goes up and down different stairs and steps onto all kinds of escalators in between visiting different stores. As a normal part of life, Alex also has to step into elevators from time to time, whether it's to get to their apartment or to reach the top floor of their favorite department store.

As it so happens, Alex's favorite mall is only accessible through an elevator. As the elevator doors open, Alex steps in and presses the button to get onto the next floor. Unfortunately, things don't go as planned: as the doors close, the elevator jolts up and down. Alex presses the emergency button, but nothing seems to be working.

Onlookers hear Alex's scream through the elevator shaft, and they call the fire department.

By the time rescue arrives, Alex has suffered serious injuries. These include:

  • Emotional distress from claustrophobia—Alex was stuck in there for a whole hour, and the cramped elevator space gave Alex a complete mental breakdown.
  • Broken bones, back injuries, and head injuries including a brain injury—Alex's entire body was forcefully thrown up and down because the elevator motor had malfunctioned and put Alex into freefall.

Alex will claim all of these injuries — physical and mental — in a negligence lawsuit for premises liability. If Alex dies from these injuries, Alex's representative may bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent parties.

Suing for Negligence

Alex can name several potential defendants in a negligence case. These include:

  • The property owner or landlord
  • The lessee(s) of the building
  • The elevator manufacturing company
  • The elevator maintenance company

To prove negligence, Alex must show that one or more of these people was careless in the way they made or maintained the elevator. In other words, Alex must prove the legal elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages:

  1. The defendants had a duty to ensure Alex's safety because Alex was a customer or an expected user of their elevator.;
  2. The defendants breached their duty by failing to maintain the elevator;
  3. The defendants' failure to maintain the elevator caused Alex to suffer injuries from a malfunctioning elevator; and
  4. Alex suffered damages in the form of physical, mental, and financial injuries.

In premises liability cases like this one, defendants must take reasonable steps to make a condition safe or warn the plaintiff of a dangerous condition. Here, one or more of the parties responsible for the elevator didn't do their job right, and Alex got injured. That's negligence in a nutshell.

Some states will allow a plaintiff to tack on a negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claim to their general negligence lawsuit. This will require a further showing that:

  1. The defendant's negligence caused plaintiff's emotional distress; and
  2. The plaintiff actually suffered emotional harm

Since the elevator mishap drove Alex's claustrophobia into high gear, Alex will want to include NIED in the lawsuit in states that allow it. Keep in mind that courts don't always like to reward plaintiffs for emotional or mental problems unless the emotional distress was accompanied by some kind of physical injury.

Suing for Wrongful Death

If Alex dies from the serious injuries listed above, Alex's representative may be able to sue the same defendants for wrongful death. While the elements vary across different states, a wrongful death claim generally involves the following components:

  1. The immediate family or personal representative of the deceased brings the lawsuit;
  2. The defendant must have been negligent in properly maintaining the elevator;
  3. Defendant's negligence must have caused the victim's death; and
  4. The victim and their family were damaged because of the victim's loss of life and associated hospital and burial expenses.

Remedies: What Accident Victims Can Recover

When suing for negligence or wrongful death, victims and their families can receive compensation after they win their lawsuit:

  • Physical and mental/emotional pain and suffering (non-economic damages)
  • Medical bills, including future possible care needed
  • Loss of earnings to date and future earning capacity
  • Lawsuit costs and attorney's fees
  • Burial/funeral costs and loss of consortium (companionship) in a wrongful death case
  • Punitive damages (sometimes awarded by courts to punish defendants that acted outrageously and showed reckless disregard for their victims)

Get Legal Advice From Elevator Accident Attorneys

If you were the victim of elevator accident injuries, you have legal rights. A premises liability lawyer can provide you with a case evaluation and help you decide if you should file an elevator accident lawsuit. If you're not sure whether you have a good case, they can give you all the disclaimers and provide you with different options for your accident claim.

If you or a loved one have an elevator injury case, starting an attorney-client relationship with an experienced lawyer wouldn't hurt. Some law offices that handle personal injury claims may be willing to take your case on a contingency basis, meaning that you won't have to pay any money upfront until a settlement or judgment has been obtained for you.

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