A building owner, by law, must immediately take out of service a malfunctioning elevator that caused a personal injury. A government safety inspector is then required to examine the elevator as soon as possible.
Georgia law also states that the elevator shall not be repaired, altered, or placed back into service until the inspection takes place.
If the building owner doesn’t follow this safety inspection protocol, the owner is presumed by law to have tampered with the elevator prior to the inspection. The presumed tampering of evidence is harmful to the building owner’s defense against being responsible for a personal injury.
This rule of law helped a Georgia woman injured in an elevator trip-and-fall to persuade the Georgia Court of Appeals to deny a building owner’s request to dismiss her case.
The woman tripped on the elevator’s threshold as she was attempting to exit the building after work. The threshold was not even with the hallway floor. She fell and struck her head against the metal railing on the back wall of the elevator.
Shortly after the accident, a building occupant rode the elevator to determine if it was operating properly. When he reached a floor higher than where the woman tripped and fell, the elevator door did not open. He reported the malfunction to building personnel.
Earlier in the day prior to the accident, a repair technician serviced a number of elevators in the building, including the elevator in which the woman was injured. Because of the injury to the woman, the incident was reported to the George Department of Labor.
The next day, a government inspector and employee of the elevator maintenance company examined one of the serviced elevators, but apparently not the one involving the woman’s injuries. The inspection did not reveal any defects.
The injured woman filed a personal injury lawsuit against the building owner and the elevator maintenance company responsible for servicing the elevators.
An expert on behalf of the injured woman offered the opinion that the elevator service technician failed to follow the service company’s inspection protocol, and, if he had done so, likely would have detected the problem and corrected it.
The court denied the elevator maintenance company’s request to dismiss the case, ruling that a jury should have the opportunity to assess the disputed fact of whether the correct elevator was taken out of service and inspected in accordance with the law. The court also said a jury should hear the opinion of the woman’s safety expert that the elevator maintenance company did not properly maintain the elevator.
The court’s ruling is a useful reminder that personal injury cases are, for the most part, appropriately resolved by jury trial, not a judge’s assessment of the facts.
The case is Hill v. Kone Inc. (No. A14A1241).