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Elevator Accidents, Injuries, and Deaths in Georgia

Two male technicians adjusting an elevator mechanism of lift with spanner. High angle view looking down on the workers in the elevator shaft.

Elevators are amazing machines. They are a part of the modern world, helping to efficiently move people and goods through skyscrapers, schools, and other large venues.

Getting into an elevator shouldn’t feel risky. But when these machines aren’t properly looked after, accidents can happen.

How Many Elevators Are in Georgia?

There are more than 34,000 elevators, escalators, and moving sidewalks in the state of Georgia, and government regulators have no idea how many are overdue for inspections.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the decades-old problem is centered around a database that is unable to track and produce lists of scheduled or overdue inspections.

The issue came to light after a 19-year-old student was killed in an elevator accident in a student housing building in Atlanta. Students had complained about the malfunctioning elevators in the building since they had moved in. Only one elevator was working, and many residents found it unsafe.

The students’ worst fears were realized when the remaining elevator, strained by constant use, failed. It collapsed, pinning the victim between the second and third floors. The victim died of their injuries after being transported to Atlanta Medical Center.

Authorities investigating the elevator’s failure discovered that the operating permit for the elevators at the location had expired the year prior.

Building Owners Are Responsible for Elevator Safety

Elevator inspections are required by Georgia law to be done on an annual basis and it is the responsibility of the building owner to make the request. More thorough inspections are required every five years.

State regulations for elevator safety are enforced by the Georgia Department of Insurance and Safety Fire. The dense guidelines and requirements cover everything from freight elevators to hand-powered lifts.

Georgia has also adopted the safety codes created by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Part of their requirements states that elevators must be able to operate with a passenger load up to 125% of their listed maximum weight.

When building and construction site owners fail to take the necessary elevator safety precautions, they put passengers and building workers at risk of injury and death.

Reasons Why Elevators Fail

When safety regulations are ignored, elevators become dangerous hazards for unwitting maintenance workers or passengers.

Door Strikes: When an elevator door’s protection devices (electric sensors, detector edges, etc.) fail or are not properly adjusted, passengers can get caught in them. The door doesn’t react to the person and crushes their limb or body.

Falling Down the Shaft: A passenger may fall into the elevator shaft if the door’s locking system fails, they tried to exit a stalled elevator while it was misaligned, or they were improperly evacuated out of a stalled elevator.

Mis-Leveling: One of the biggest issues elevators encounter is missing the correct floor. The doors open and passengers instinctively step out, only to fall down the shaft. Or a person waiting for the elevator to arrive steps through the open doors, but the elevator isn’t there. The problem may stem from worn-out brakes, being overcapacity, fluctuations in electrical voltage, or an error by the floor selector, leveling subsystems, or door sensors.

Sudden Stops: The elevator car’s sensors may not realize it is going too fast, and the emergency sensors fail to get the car to stop safely. This mechanical or electrical failure may cause the car to come to an abrupt and unexpected stop. Passengers are thrown to the ground or against each other, risking serious injuries to their ankles, knees, and spine.

Some other reasons why elevator malfunctions and accidents happen include:

  • Broken or snapped cables
  • Elevator brake wear and tear or contamination
  • Improper or inadequate training for maintenance workers
  • Inadequate repairs
  • Lack of safety inspections/negligence
  • Lack of safety signage or proper lighting
  • Rope gripper failure (a device designed to stop the elevator in case of mechanical failure)
  • Tampering
  • Too much weight/overcapacity

Who Is At-Risk of Being Involved in an Elevator Accident?

Half of the people injured or killed in or near elevators are workers installing, repairing, and maintaining elevator shafts and their systems.

More than half of elevator accident deaths were due to falls into the shaft. Incidents with workers caught in between the elevator’s moving parts and workers struck by the elevator or counterweights caused 18% and 16% of deaths respectively.

Workes are at risk of serious injury while cleaning elevator shafts, conducting emergency evacuations of stalled elevators, or doing construction near open doorways and shafts.

These are the occupations most likely to suffer an elevator-related injury:

  • Construction workers
  • Engineers
  • Ironworkers
  • Mechanics
  • Construction supervisors/managers
  • Janitors, cleaners, and supervisors
  • Construction laborers
  • Elevator constructors

Of course, construction sites aren’t the only places one is at risk of an elevator accident. Office workers, delivery persons, warehouse workers, and others who work in multi-story buildings can suddenly find themselves in a dangerous or life-threatening situation if an elevator cable snaps or the elevator doors open but the elevator isn’t there.

Non-workers can also be affected. A person going about their day could fall out of an elevator due to an unsecured gate or down an elevator shaft due to a lack of maintenance.

Types of Elevator Accident Injuries

Serious injuries suffered in elevator accidents fall into three main categories. The first is sprains and overexertion while working in or around an elevator shaft. Crush injuries often affect the fingers or hands that were caught in elevator doors or other machinery. Finally, head injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and internal injuries often result from falls or being crushed by the elevator.

Common Causes of Death in Elevator Accidents

Most deaths involved in an elevator accident are due to falls, particularly falls into an elevator shaft. Almost all falls down an elevator shaft occur when an elevator door opens and there is no elevator car (this can happen if a car leaves the floor and the hoistway interlock or the door closer fails electrically or mechanically).

The next common cause of elevator fatalities is “caught in/between” incidents. This mostly involves people becoming caught in the doors or between the elevator and door or shaft.

Fatalities have also been recorded for people being struck by an object (usually the elevator car) and elevator collapses.

Ways to Prevent Elevator Accidents

State authorities recognize the potential hazards of an elevator malfunction and require periodic inspections. Organizations like ASME have set standards for the construction, maintenance, and safe operation of elevators.

Construction workers, elevator repair workers, and passengers are far less likely to suffer a serious or fatal injury involving an elevator if the following protocols are implemented:

  • Adequate fall protection
  • Adequate guard rails
  • Annual safety and adequate maintenance inspections of elevators
  • Proper safety training
  • Proper signage

Georgia Elevator Injury Lawyer

Victims of an elevator accident may be entitled to financial compensation for their injuries should an investigation discover negligence or wrongdoing by a building owner, maintenance worker, or other entity.

Serious incidents resulting from negligence or other wrongdoing that caused someone’s death could result in criminal charges depending on the specific facts of the elevator malfunction.

At Gary Martin Hays & Associates, we conduct an independent investigation to hold any negligent parties whose actions led to the elevator accident accountable. Our attorneys won't let property owners, elevator manufacturers, construction companies, or anyone else who may have caused harm get off the hook.

If you or a loved one were injured due to an elevator malfunction or elevator accident on a construction site or other location, call us at (770) 934-8000 for a free consultation regarding your case. Whether it involves workers’ compensation for an on-the-job injury, personal injury, or a third-party claim, we’re here to help.

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