Escalators may be convenient, but they have also been the cause of accidents that result in broken bones, other serious injuries, and some even resulting in death. It may be unclear exactly which parties are liable when a person is injured as a result of using an escalator, so it’s important to consult an accident lawyer. The following article will discuss liability for escalator accidents that occur within the state of Illinois.
Types of Escalator Defects
Some defects associated with escalators include the following:
- Missing teeth on the escalator track
- Loose or missing screws
- Excessive space between the escalator steps and the escalator sides
- Broken or missing steps
- General malfunction
Types of Escalator Accidents
Some of the most common types of accidents that occur on escalators include:
- Finger entrapment (particularly among children)
- Comb plate entrapment
- Between-step entrapment
- Personal effects such as hair, clothing, or shoes becoming lodged in the escalator
- Slip and fall accidents (particularly among elderly passengers)
Which Parties are Potentially Liable for Escalator Accidents?
If you are involved in an escalator accident, the following parties may be held liable for any resulting injuries you suffer:
- The escalator manufacturer: The manufacturers of an escalator (or the individual parts of an escalator) can be liable for accidents involving defective parts.
- The escalator maintenance company: Some property owners hire escalator maintenance contractors to perform routine maintenance and repair any problems with the escalator that may arise. When there are injuries resulting from an escalator malfunction, the contractor is usually subject to liability.
- Property management companies: Many properties large enough to have an escalator, especially commercial properties, are managed by a professional property manager. This property manager usually has someone onsite who is responsible for scheduling the maintenance and repairs of an escalator in the building and for inspecting the property. As the onsite representative of the actual property owners, the property managers are responsible for ensuring the safe condition of the property, which includes any escalators located on the property.
- The property owners: Under the law in Illinois, owners of buildings that have escalators in them are considered common carriers to escalator passengers. This means that these property owners are required to exercise the highest degree of care for the safety of any passengers using the escalator. This in turn means that these owners must ensure that the escalator is in safe operating condition and also that they must conduct regular inspections of the escalator in order to alert the escalator maintenance contractor. Escalators are common in shopping malls, subway stations, and similar locations, so those owners are responsible for maintaining a safe environment for visitors.
What are Some Examples of Negligence That Would Make Someone Subject to Liability?
Examples of negligence on the part of a manufacturer, escalator maintenance company, or property owner might include some of the following:
- Failure to maintain and inspect the escalator regularly
- Improper maintenance
- Defective or improper escalator design
- Failure to place signs indicating defective or broken escalator
- Failure to check on a poorly functioning escalator
- Failure to follow building codes or regulations
How Can I Prove That a Property Owner is Liable for My Accident?
In order to prove that a property owner is liable for the injuries you suffered while using an escalator on the property, you will need to show proof of the following elements:
- The owner knew or should have known of the safety issues associated with the faulty escalator. You will need to show that the property owner knew or had reason to know that the escalator was faulty.
- The owner failed to take reasonable care to fix the faulty escalator. If the owner does not take the appropriate actions to fix the escalator within their control that they know is faulty (by contacting a contractor, for example), then they will be liable for any resulting injuries.
- As a result of this failure, you were injured. This element is satisfied if an owner fails to take reasonable care to protect consumers from the faulty escalator and this failure directly causes your injury.
In order to prove that an escalator manufacturer is liable for the injuries you suffered, you will need to prove the following:
- There was a defect in the design or manufacturing process. In order to hold the escalator manufacturer liable, you will typically be required to show that there was some type of defect in the design or manufacturing process. This may not always be easy to prove, which is when the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur may apply (discussed below).
- The defect caused you to suffer injuries. Once you are able to show that there was a defect in the design or manufacturing process, you will be required to show a clear causal connection between the defect and your resulting injuries.
Res Ipsa Loquitur
Sometimes, it is difficult to determine with certainty that a property owner was negligent in the ownership, maintenance, or control of the escalator machinery. However, the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitur allows a plaintiff to assess liability even if the plaintiff cannot specifically pinpoint how the owner was negligent.
“Res ipsa loquitur” translates to “the thing speaks for itself.” This doctrine is essentially used in situations in which it is more than likely true that the defendant was negligent in some relevant way, which resulted in your injuries, and that as such, they should be held liable for those injuries. When this doctrine is used, it allows the court to infer negligence where it cannot be specifically proven by the plaintiff. For example, in an escalator injury case, it may be near impossible for the plaintiff to determine what specific escalator defect caused her injuries or at what point the defect existed. However, the escalator suddenly stopping and lurching her forward would likely be sufficient evidence to establish negligence on the part of the manufacturer, maintenance company, or property owner.
In order to establish res ipsa loquitur, you must show proof of the following elements:
- The defendant was in exclusive control of the escalator that caused the injury
- The injury that occurred is not the type of injury that would ordinarily occur in the absence of the defendant’s negligence
- The plaintiff did not contribute to their own injury
If the plaintiff is able to prove all three of these elements, the legal burden then shifts to the defendant to prove that they were not negligent.
Negligence Per Se
Negligence per se is a legal doctrine based on negligence which is typically applied when a defendant engages in conduct that also happens to be a violation of a law (for example, a criminal statute, ordinance, or administrative order) and which causes harm to a plaintiff. Because violating the law is inherently considered negligent behavior, the fact that the defendant violated the law provides an inference that they breached the duty owed to the plaintiff. An example of this would be a property owner who violated a building code/regulation which requires escalators to be serviced every 10 years. If the defendant knew of this statute and purposely violated it, this violation alone is sufficient to show that he breached his duty to the plaintiff (the duty to provide a functioning escalator). Note, however, that the doctrine of negligence per se does not automatically prove that the defendant was negligent; the plaintiff still must show that the defendant’s actions directly caused their injury.
To prove negligence per se, the plaintiff must establish the following elements:
- There is a statute that defines a certain standard of conduct
- The defendant violated that statute
- The plaintiff is a member of the class that the statute was designed to protect
- The plaintiff suffered the type of injury that the statute was designed to prevent
Tips for Avoiding Escalator Accidents
Escalator accidents cannot always be avoided but there are some tips you can take to try to maintain your safety while using an escalator. These tips include the following:
- Always check the direction of the escalator before you board.
- Always pick up your feet and step carefully on and off the escalator.
- Always face forward and hold the handrail.
- Do not sit on the handrail.
- Do not lean against or reach over the sides of the escalator.
- Exit promptly from the escalator.
- Never stop, stand, or play at an escalator landing.
- Do not board an escalator with a baby stroller, walker, or packages.
- Be aware that loose shoelaces, drawstrings, scarves and mittens can get trapped in escalators. Take extra precaution to avoid the sides of the escalator when wearing flip-flops or rubber-soled shoes.
- Do not ride an escalator barefoot.
- Always hold children’s hands on escalators and do not permit them to sit or play on the steps.
- Obey caution signs posted on the escalator.
- Use the emergency shutoff button if needed (these buttons are usually located at the entrances and exits of the escalators).
Were You Recently Injured in an Escalator Accident? Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you or a loved one were recently injured in an escalator accident and are interested in filing a personal injury claim, the Palermo Law Group wants to help you hold the liable parties accountable. Our Oak Brook personal injury law firm consists of knowledgeable attorneys with over 20 years of experience litigating premises liability cases and other personal injury cases. We will defend your legal rights and do our best to ensure that you receive fair compensation for your injuries and any other damages. Please contact us today at (630)-684-2332 or use our online form to set up a free consultation with our experienced personal injury attorney.