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Open Elevator Shaft Accidents

Compensation for Victims of Construction Site Elevator Falls and Accidents

construction workers in open elevator shaft

According to the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), between 2010 and 2019 there were more than 500 incidents involving dangerous elevators in New York City, which led to 48 serious injuries and 22 fatalities. A quarterly report released in 2018 by The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) found that 145 construction workers died in elevator-related incidents between 2011 and 2016.

Clearly, open elevator shafts can be a very serious hazard on construction sites, as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) accident reports frequently point out. In one case, a 47-year-old employee impaled his leg on a scaffold post as he fell through an open shaft of a second-level elevator while trying to place a floor lamp at its edge. In another case, a 20-year-old worker assigned to replace broken sprinkler pipes was found dead at the bottom of a freight elevator shaft, having apparently fallen 20 to 30 feet through the open elevator doors.

These horrific accidents, among others, drew attention from the public and New York lawmakers. In January 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Elevator Safety Act, legislation aimed at reducing elevator-related accidents. The new law requires anyone performing elevator work to be licensed by New York state. The law also created the New York State Elevator Safety and Standards Advisory Board, which will establish recommendations for elevator inspections and promote public safety, among other things. Despite ongoing efforts to improve construction safety, accidents involving elevators and elevator shafts continue to injure and kill workers in New York and beyond.

Causes of Elevator Shaft Falls on Construction Sites

There are a variety of scenarios that present the life-threatening risk of open elevator shafts on construction sites. In new constructions of high-rise buildings, there are times when power needs to be suspended from the entire site for the purpose of safe electrical installations. This can temporarily disable elevator cars. Adding to the hazard in new constructions is the possibility that shaftway doors may not be fully installed at the time that power is suspended. Shaftway doors are the doors permanently affixed to the door frames of an elevator on each floor of a building in the elevator bay. Oftentimes, the installation of shaftway doors is phased as “finish work” on the site, meaning it is performed after the full concrete superstructure, plumbing, and electrical has been installed. Until the shaftway doors are installed, the shaft is an open hazard that needs to be guarded by temporary installations of wooden barricades, orange construction netting, or steel safety cables.

Open elevator shafts are also a potential hazard in gut renovations of high-rise buildings, such as luxury hotels. In these projects, modernization of antiquated pre-existing elevators is often included in the scope of the renovation work. This elevator modernization requires taking the elevator cars completely out of service and removing all of the supporting mechanisms from the machine room and the shaft. There are times when passenger elevators are used by workers on these renovation projects during certain phases of the job and then, later in the job, those same elevators are taken out of service and demolished.

Miscommunication between general contractors and subcontractor trades as to when the elevators go out of service can be extremely dangerous to workers. If toolbox talks don’t adequately explain the phasing of the elevator demolition or if there isn’t sufficient barricading and signage warning workers that elevators have been taken out of service, there is a grave risk that a worker who is accustomed to using a passenger elevator from weeks of doing so on the site is unaware that the elevator in question is now an empty shaft.

Legal Protections for New York Workers

While workers are compensated for on-the-job injuries through New York’s workers’ compensation system, injured employees may also have the legal right to bring a “third-party” lawsuit against an entity or individual who may have been legally responsible to maintain a safe workplace for the employees. To be fair, workers’ compensation benefits are often insufficient to cover many medical expenses or fail to approximate a worker’s lost wages.

State laws have carved out protections for construction workers who were injured due to worksite safety violations under some very specific, and sometimes complicated, circumstances. These laws may permit an injured worker to pursue compensation for serious on-the-job injuries, including those sustained in falls down elevator shafts. These include:

  • New York State Labor Law 240, commonly called the “Scaffold Law,” allows property owners and contractors to be held strictly liable for elevation-related accidents. Frequently these kinds of accidents are the result of a worker who fell or something that fell and struck a worker. Cases brought under this law can result from falls from scaffolding and ladders, and in some less common cases, falls during work on or near elevators. The law requires that workers be provided with proper tools and safety equipment as well as a safe way to accomplish their job. This affords workers with the best possible legal protection from elevation-related injury risks, including falls.
  • Labor Law 241 allows contractors and property owners to be held responsible for injuries suffered by workers during construction work under very specific circumstances. The law allows for some workers who were injured during construction work on or near an elevator to recover under this statute.
  • Labor Law 255 requires that every elevator used in connection with a factory be constructed, guarded, equipped, maintained, and operated according to safety guidelines.

There are certainly vocal opponents of these worker safety laws, but it is too well settled that many serious injuries and fatalities involving workers on elevators under construction or at construction sites are traced back to safety violations or circumstances where employers cut corners, exposing workers to harrowing dangers. When an elevator-related accident occurs on a construction site, these laws can help obtain critical and just compensation for survivors and their families.

Pursuing Justice for Workers Injured by Dangerous Elevators

In general, New York law holds construction company owners and general contractors liable for injuries or fatalities that occur due to unsafe working conditions. If you were injured by falling down an unguarded elevator shaft or injured by a falling object in an elevator shaft, you may be eligible for compensation.

At Block O’Toole & Murphy, our New York work accident attorneys are committed to fighting for the maximum compensation to which you may be entitled. Our attorneys will ensure juries and insurance companies consider the full ramifications of an elevator shaft accident on your life and future. We understand your very real concerns about returning to work, paying your rent or mortgage, and providing for your family. We will thoroughly investigate the facts of your claim and pursue every potential source of compensation. We will not rest until justice is done on your behalf.

Verdicts and settlements in elevator accident cases include*:

  • $7,200,000 settlement for the family of a man who was tragically killed after falling down an elevator shaft
    Our client was the family of a 25-year-old husband and father who became stuck in the elevator of a building in which he was working. The elevator had stopped suddenly in between two floors, because of a power outage in the building. After waiting for several minutes, he opened the elevator doors himself and tried to slide out into the hallway; instead, because the elevator was stuck between floors, he fell 50 feet to the bottom of the elevator shaft, suffering fatal injuries.
    We filed claims against several entities whose negligence contributed to the plaintiff’s death. This case settled shortly prior to trial for $7.2 million.
  • $7,000,000 settlement for a worker who had nine surgeries after falling down an elevator shaft
    At the time of the accident, our client was maneuvering a pallet jack onto a freight elevator. His back came into contact with the elevator doors, which gave way, causing our client to fall 30 feet to the bottom of the elevator shaft. He suffered severe crush injuries and now has very limited mobility.
  • $5,500,000 recovery for a man injured in a work-related elevator accident
    Our client was a truck driver delivering office furniture to a construction site in Manhattan. While he was loading furniture onto the freight elevator, an elevator operator pressed the button to close the elevator gate and the gate struck our client in the head, neck, and back. Our client sustained serious spinal injuries, requiring extensive treatment and surgery.
    After jury selection, our attorneys settled the case for $5.5 million for medical expenses and loss of future earnings.
  • $4,000,000 recovery for an elevator erector injured in a construction site accident
  • $3,000,000 recovery for an elevator worker who fell because of unsafe working conditions
  • $2,250,000recovery for the spouse of an elevator erector killed in a construction accident
  • $1,900,000 settlement for a 32 BJ Union worker injured in an elevator accident

To read the full list of successful results we have obtained, please view our Verdicts & Settlements page.

Contact an Elevator Injury Attorney Serving New York

If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury in an elevator fall or open elevator shaft accident, it is critical that you act promptly to protect your rights under New York law. Schedule a FREE consultation with the skilled elevator injury lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy. Call us at 212-736-5300, or contact us online today.

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*Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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