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What causes elevator malfunctions?

The United States has around 900,000 elevators, many located in New York City. Each year, these devices make 18 billion passenger trips and serve 20,000 people. Each elevator carries approximately 5 passengers on per trip.

Most elevators are installed in residential, commercial or retail properties and rise up to an average of four to five floors. Passenger elevators may be hydraulically-driven for a maximum height of 50 feet or traction-driven for medium-and high-rise architecture over 50 feet.

There are several elevator defects and malfunctions. A pulley shift malfunction or mechanical breakdown or defect causes elevators to drop rapidly within the shaft. An open shaft, faulty doors, unbalancing leveling or other failures may not protect passengers upon entry. Other defects include faulty wiring, elevator control malfunction or risk of electrocution. Unqualified personnel cause defects by conducting incomplete repairs, maintenance or inspections. Passengers may also become entrapped from the heat or water from emergency sprinklers or hoses.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Consumer Product Safety Commission report that, on average, 27 people are killed and 10,200 injured each year in elevator accidents. Most of these accidents are reportedly caused by elevator door malfunction, carriage misalignment with floors and passenger safety vulnerabilities.

Half of all passenger deaths in elevators not used in work, such as in apartment buildings, are attributed to falls in the elevator shaft. The other half of accidents are caused by the victim being trapped between the elevator and shaft wall. Defects in the wiring, pulley systems, door operation or an improper maintenance procedure are the usual underlying causes.

The CPSC, unlike automobiles or personal equipment, does not regulate elevators or issue recall notices. A manufacturer which identifies a design defect in an elevator or escalator part is required only to send out a product letter by certified mail to equipment owners. Although there is little federal oversight over elevators, state and local governments are usually fairly diligent in ensuring that annual inspections are properly performed.

Victims of elevator accidents may suffer serious injuries and other significant losses. Where these accidents are caused by landlord negligence or other faults, advice should be sought to assure that compensation for damages may be obtained. Time limits restrict the time a civil suit may be filed.

Source: Consumer Watch, “Elevators,” Accessed Nov. 9, 2014.