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Woman Killed in Horrifying Elevator Accident Last Week; Public Shocked and Anxious About Riding Elevators in New York City

Forty-one-year-old advertising executive Suzanne Hart was killed when the elevator car she was stepping into suddenly lurched upward, pinning her body between floors and crushing her to death. The tragic, horrifying accident was witnessed by two passengers in the elevator car who were powerless to help the victim as the elevator yanked her body up to her death, according to a fire official quoted in the New York Times. Ms. Hart was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, which occurred on December 14, 2011. The passengers were taken to New York University Langone Medical Center, according to the official, for "what they saw, traumas."

The tragic accident was nothing short of a devastating nightmare for all those who personally knew Ms. Hart, who worked as a director of new business for Y&R in Midtown Manhattan and lived in Brooklyn. News coverage of the horrifying accident has also sparked fear and anxiety among elevator riders throughout New York and beyond. Many members of the public have been left feeling helpless and nervous, as media reports indicated that the accident occurred when the elevator doors were open and Ms. Hart was simply stepping on.

The New York City Department of Buildings is currently investigating the accident, and focusing on electrical maintenance work that was being performed on the elevator hours before its fatal malfunctioning. The Department is also conducting sweeps, throughout the City, of elevators maintained by the same company. Although no criminal charges have been filed in connection with this accident, one day after the accident an elevator repairman was indicted for recklessly conducting an elevator repair in connection with another elevator accident that occurred last year. That accident occurred in a Brooklyn hospital elevator in which the victim’s body parts were crushed but she miraculously survived, sustaining severe and debilitating injuries, according to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes. New York does not currently require elevator workers to be licensed, but a bill that would create such licensing requirements was introduced in the State Assembly last summer.

While elevator experts say that accidents like Ms. Hart’s are rare, any elevator-related accident can have serious and severe consequences. And in some circumstances, the risks and harms of elevator accidents and incidents can be minimized. It can benefit concerned elevator riders to arm themselves with information and become more aware of elevator safety to help discover and remedy potential problems and be better prepared in the case of an emergency.

ELEVATOR SAFETY TIPS*

Before you get in the elevator:

  • Look down and check that the elevator is level with the floor before you enter (or exit) the car
  • If an elevator car is full, do not crowd onto it; wait patiently for the next elevator
  • If the elevator door is closing, do not try to stop it; wait patiently for the next elevator
  • If there is a fire, do not take the elevator; take the stairs instead

Once you are in the elevator:

  • Make sure to keep clothing items, like ties, scarves and purses, clear of closing elevator doors
  • Stand next to the elevator wall, and hold onto the handrail if available
  • Pay attention to the floor indications
  • Do NOT lean on the elevator doors
  • Do not jump
  • Do not try to use a body part to hold the door open; instead press the "door open" button
  • Do not exit if the elevator stops more than nine inches from the landing

If you get stuck in an elevator:

  • Ring the alarm by pushing or pulling the alarm button to call for assistance
  • If a phone is available, call for help
  • Move to the rear center of the elevator and face the doors while waiting for help
  • Do NOT try to pry the doors open
  • Do NOT attempt to leave the elevator car without the help of building management or an emergency responder; trying to escape could result in injury
  • Always follow the instructions from the building management or emergency responder
  • Remain calm and wait for help

Block, O’Toole & Murphy, LLP is devoted to helping elevator accident victims, and has experience in representing individuals who have been severely injured or killed in elevator-related accidents. The firm’s extensive experience has resulted in notable recoveries for elevator-accident victims, including Oscar Torres who was struck in the head, neck and back by a freight elevator gate in Manhattan. Block, O’Toole & Murphy, LLP’s representation yielded a $5.5 million-dollar award for Mr. Torres, who suffered from severe injuries as a result of the elevator accident.

* Safety-Tip List compiled from information provided by the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation and the New York City Department of Buildings