Lawsuits for Elevator Accidents and Injuries

Under most state personal injury laws, anyone injured in an elevator accident can file a lawsuit against those responsible for causing the accident. A personal injury lawsuit allows victims and their families to seek money damages, including compensation for:

The parties who might be responsible for an elevator accident can include the:

  • Elevator manufacturer;
  • Elevator maintenance company; or
  • Property owner or manager.

If someone is killed in an elevator accident, a wrongful death lawsuit will allow the family to get compensation for the loss of a loved one.

Our California personal injury lawyers discuss the frequently asked questions about elevator accidents:

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

Elevator buttons
Our personal injury lawyers discuss the frequently asked questions about elevator accidents in California.

1. Can you file a lawsuit after an elevator accident?

If you suffer an injury as the result of an elevator accident you can file a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury lawsuit allows the injured victim to sue for damages caused by the accident. The parties responsible for the accident, or “defendants” may be liable for damages.

Liability in an elevator accident depends on who is considered to be responsible for the accident. Most elevator accident claims are based on:

There are many parties involved in operating, maintaining, or designing elevators. If someone is injured in an elevator accident, the negligent party may be held liable for the victim's financial losses and noneconomic damages. In elevator accident lawsuits, the defendants may include:

  • Property owner;
  • Elevator maintenance company;
  • Engineer;
  • Architect;
  • Building maintenance company;
  • Elevator manufacturer;
  • Elevator seller; or
  • Elevator company employee.

Even if the plaintiff was partly responsible for causing the accident, he or she may still be able to claim damages from the defendants. Under California's “comparative fault” law, the plaintiff is able to recover damages based on each party's level of fault. 1

Demonstrating Negligence

Most personal injury claims are based on a negligence cause of action. To show the defendant was negligent, the plaintiff has to prove:

  1. The defendant(s) owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  2. The defendant(s) breached the duty of care through negligent action or inaction; and
  3. The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm or death.2

In some cases, an employee may be responsible for causing the accident but does not have enough money to cover the victim's damages. However, under “Respondeat Superior” laws, the employer may be liable for an employee's negligence.3

Example: Cameron works for Rusty's Elevator Maintenance. Cameron was doing maintenance on an elevator in an office building in Long Beach. There was a problem with the leveling. Cameron tried to fix it but the elevator was still a couple inches from level with the floor when the doors opened. Cameron decided it was good enough and he'd come back the next day to fix it.
Diana was going to her doctor's appointment in the building later that day. When Diana stepped into the elevator, she tripped on the edge of the elevator and fell, hitting her head on the elevator wall rail. Diana had to get medical treatment for her injuries.

Diana files a lawsuit against Cameron for her injuries based on Cameron's negligence in leaving the elevator in an unsafe condition. However, Cameron does not have enough money to pay for Diana's medical bills.

Under California's vicarious liability laws, Rusty's Elevator Maintenance may be liable for Cameron's negligence. Diana can also seek damages from Cameron's employer for compensation.

2. Who is responsible for a fatal elevator accident?

The same parties who may be responsible for an elevator injury may also be liable for a fatal elevator accident. When an elevator accident results in someone's death, the surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim.

A wrongful death lawsuit allows certain family members to seek compensation when a loved one is killed in an accident. Whoever was responsible for causing the fatal accident, including the manufacturer, property owner, or elevator service company, is liable for damages.4

Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are different than those available in a personal injury lawsuit. In a wrongful death claim, damages are for the loss to the family members related to the death of a loved one, including:

  • Funeral and burial costs;5
  • Loss of financial support;6
  • Loss of service;7
  • Loss of companionship;
  • Loss of support; and
  • Loss of affection.

Not all family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Family members who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in California include:

  • Spouses or domestic partners;
  • Surviving children;
  • Grandchildren (if there are no surviving children); or
  • Anyone else who has a claim under California intestate succession laws.
Example: Eleanor is an elevator engineer and was inspecting an elevator shaft at a high rise building. The elevator was supposed to be turned off during the inspection. However, Frank, the property manager had the wrong elevator turned off and Eleanor was killed when she was crushed by the descending elevator.
Eleanor's spouse and children were devastated by Eleanor's death and wanted to make sure the property manager was held responsible for his actions. Eleanor's spouse and children file a wrongful death lawsuit against the property manager and building owner.
A jury finds the property manager and building owner were liable for Eleanor's death. The jury awards Eleanor's spouse and children damages that include funeral costs, the loss of earnings Eleanor would have brought to the family, and an award for the loss of support the spouse and children would no longer have after the death of Eleanor.

3. What damages can you sue for in an elevator accident lawsuit?

In a personal injury lawsuit, the injured victim sues the defendant for “damages” related to the accident. Damages include the financial losses suffered by the victim as well as compensation for noneconomic harm. These compensatory damages may include:

4. Can you sue for getting stuck in an elevator?

One of the most common problems people face is getting stuck in an elevator. In most cases, getting stuck in an elevator does not result in any harm or injuries. However, in some cases, getting stuck in an elevator may lead to physical or emotional harm that could justify a personal injury lawsuit.

Under California law, an individual can file a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. If an individual suffers emotional distress as the result of an elevator accident, he or she may be eligible for damages from the party responsible.

A plaintiff is considered the direct victim of negligent infliction of emotional distress if the plaintiff suffered serious emotional distress as a result of the defendant's negligence.8 “Serious emotional distress,” may be found where a reasonable person would be unable to adequately cope with the mental stress under the circumstances.9

Example: Amy was riding in an elevator alone. The building manager flipped the wrong breaker switch during a test and shut off the power to the elevator. The elevator stopped and the emergency lights went on. Amy got anxious because she has a fear of getting stuck in an elevator. However, about a minute later, the power went back on and she was able to leave the elevator.
In this case, Amy may have a hard time showing she suffered any emotional distress. Amy was only stuck in the elevator for a short time and an ordinary person would likely be able to handle the mental stress of getting stuck in an elevator for about a minute.
A week later, Amy is back in the elevator, which is now crowded with a bunch of other people. The building manager again flips the wrong breaker and the elevator stops. Everyone in the elevator begins to panic. They use the emergency phone but it has been disconnected. The building manager decides to go home for the day.
In the morning, the elevator is turned back on and everyone gets out. Amy goes to the emergency room because she is so shaken up by the experience.
In this case, Amy may have a better case to sue the building manager for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Getting stuck in an elevator crowded with other people overnight may be difficult for an ordinary person to handle mentally.

5. Is the building owner responsible for an elevator accident?

Under premises liability laws, a property owner or occupier may be liable for accidents that occur on their property. Property owners owe a duty of care to others, including visitors and customers. Property owners have to keep the property safe from dangerous conditions.

Under California premises liability laws, the plaintiff must prove the following:

  1. The defendant owned, occupied, or controlled the property;
  2. The defendant was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property;
  3. The plaintiff was harmed;
  4. The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's harm.10

When an elevator accident occurs, the building owner may be liable to the injury victim if the building owner was negligent in the use or maintenance of the property.

Example: Scott owns a small office complex and manages the property himself. The office complex is 3 stories high and has one elevator. The elevator maintenance company raised their prices and Scott decided to find another elevator maintenance company. Scott did not find another maintenance company for over 2 years because the elevator seemed to be working fine and no one complained about the expired permit.
Tina was going to an appointment in the office complex and took the elevator to the 3rd floor. When Tina was getting out of the elevator, the doors suddenly closed on her, breaking her arm and causing bruises. Tina went to the hospital to get treated.
Tina files a personal injury lawsuit against Scott for the elevator accident. Scott says there was no indication before that the elevator was broken. However, Scott is responsible for the property and if a jury determines Scott was negligent in maintaining the property, Scott may be liable for Tina's injuries.

6. Is the elevator company responsible for an elevator-related injury?

The elevator manufacturer may be liable for a defective elevator even if no individual at the elevator company was negligent. Under California's products liability laws, whoever designs, manufactures, or sells a defective product is strictly liable for injuries caused by that product.11

The elevator company may be responsible for a defective elevator or elevator part based on the following types of defects:

Example: Sherman Trees Building Supply Company sells Brutus brand elevators. Jane wants an elevator installed in her home and buys the elevator from Sherman Trees. The elevator is installed and Jane begins using the elevator.
Two years later, Jane is riding the elevator when it suddenly drops about 5 feet. Jane slips and falls, injuring her back and neck. Jane files a personal injury lawsuit for damages related to the elevator accident.
An engineering expert finds the accident was caused by a manufacturing defect that made the elevator unsafe. Jane sues Sherman Trees Building Supply Company and Brutus Elevators.
The owner of Sherman Trees says they did not know the elevator was defective and the company should not be responsible for Jane's injuries. However, under California product liability laws, Sherman Trees may still be liable for the product defect because Sherman Trees sold the defective product.
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Call us for help.

If you have any questions about elevator accident lawsuits or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled personal injury attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.


Legal References:

  1. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 405. See also California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 406. (“... you must then decide how much responsibility each has by assigning percentages of responsibility to each person listed on the verdict form. The percentages must total 100 percent.”)
  2. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 400. See also Californa Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
  3. Perez v. Van Groningen & Sons, Inc. (1986) 41 Cal.3d 962, 967 (“Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for his employee's torts committed within the scope of the employment.”)
  4. California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)
  5. Vander Lind v. Superior Court (1983) 146 Cal.App.3d 358.
  6. See Allen v. Toledo (1980) 109 Cal.App.3d 415.
  7. See California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3921.
  8. See California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1620. (Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress—Direct Victim—Essential Factual Elements).
  9. Molien v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals (1980) 27 Cal.3d 916.
  10. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1000. Premises Liability. Essential Factual Elements.
  11. Soule v. GM Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 560 (“A manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable in tort if a defect in the manufacture or design of its product causes injury while the product is being used in a reasonably foreseeable way.”)
  12. See CACI Series 1200 -- Products Liability.

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