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Elevator Case Not So Complex

February 23, 2015 | Posted In Personal Injury/Negligence - Personal Injury |

Recently, a state appeals court ruled that a commuter who was injured while trying to board the elevator at a PATH transit station will be allowed to proceed with her lawsuit. The judges on the appellate panel found that the mechanics of the elevator in question were not too complicated for a jury to understand without the help of expert testimony at the trial, personal injury lawyers report.

Lazarus v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

The plaintiff, Wendy Lazarus, claimed she was injured at the Pavonia-Newport PATH train station in Jersey City in December of 2010. On her way to New York City for work, she stepped out into an empty elevator when the floor suddenly rose three or four inches above the platform on which she was standing.

She fell forward, landed on her hands and knees, and suffered knee pain for the rest of the day. Lazarus reported the issue to a security worker at the station. She also filed a formal report later in the day. After work, she went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a fractured kneecap.

In her lawsuit, Lazarus charged the Port Authority and Schindler Elevator Corp. in Morristown, N.J. (the company that operates and maintains the elevators in PATH stations) with negligence. As evidence, she provided maintenance records that showed a history of recurring problems with the specific elevator at issue.

Twice in the month before her injury, technicians came to correct problems on the elevator, and 12 hours before the incident, techs came to “troubleshoot” the mechanism after a reported issue. The elevator was deemed okay to use one hour before Lazarus tried to enter it.

The Port Authority and the elevator company tried to claim that the engineer report Lazarus had obtained, which claimed that both companies were negligent, should be stricken and Lazarus could not rely on the res ipsa doctrine to demonstrate their negligence. The trial judge allowed this, stating that the negligence Lazarus claimed went beyond the general knowledge of a jury and would require expert testimony.

The appeals court reversed the trial judge’s original decision, saying that “we reject defendants’ argument that the cause of the malfunction was so complex…the average person does not need to resort to scientific or technical knowledge to understand that an elevator generally does not abruptly rise off the floor as a patron is entering it and before the doors have closed.”

Res Ipsa Loquitur

The res ipsa loquitur doctrine states that the duty of care owed by an individual or company can sometimes be inferred or determined by the very nature of an act of negligence, without direct evidence of the defendant’s behavior contributing to that negligence.

In this case, New Jersey lawyers say the fact the elevator rose up from the floor level while the doors were still open demonstrates that the PATH officials and the elevator repair company had been negligent in allowing it to be used. Obviously, the malfunction had not been corrected and the jury did not need an expert to tell them that.

If you have suffered an injury due to an electronic or technical malfunction that clearly demonstrates negligence on the part of a person or an entity, you may be able to use the res ipsa theory in your case. Contact a personal injury attorney at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, to discuss your options today. 

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