How Common Are Elevator & Escalator Injuries?

Elevators and escalators make it easier to get around a multi-story building. Whether at a mall, hotel, or office building, we have all used elevators and escalators. 

Because of how prevalent they are, you might wonder just how safe elevators and escalators are—especially elevators, as many people avoid them for fear of getting stuck. 

Available statistics suggest that escalator- and elevator-related injuries and fatalities are quite rare. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that an average of  6,000 people per year are injured on escalators. Elevator injuries are more common, with approximately 10,200 elevator accidents involving injuries occurring each year. 

Most injuries involving elevators or escalators result from machine malfunction.

Both elevators and escalators are subject to somewhat common defects and malfunctions. Issues can occur during normal use and without warning, a factor which can heighten the likelihood of an injury. 

Common Elevator Malfunctions  Common Escalator Malfunctions
Pulley system failure that can cause the elevator to drop  Missing teeth on escalator track
Faulty doors that may remain open, exposing shaft Loose and/or missing screws
Faulty wiring that affects operation Improper alignment between steps and side  
Improper repairs Broken or missing steps
Improper leveling with the floor when stopped Electrical malfunction

While rare, there are cases in which mechanical or electrical failures on these devices resulted in death.

In August 2019, a New York City resident died when the elevator in his apartment complex descended unexpectedly as he was trying to exit. The incident was caused by an elevator that was not operating properly—in fact, the apartment complex was previously cited and had to shut down elevator access for repairs just before this occurred.  

A similar elevator incident occurred in Boston, MA in 2020. A woman was killed when the elevator she was on descended unexpectedly and she became trapped in the closed doors. 

A malfunctioning escalator resulted in 13 injuries at a hockey game. Fans were riding the down escalator when part of the escalator collapsed. The collapse caused the elevator to jolt forward before coming to an immediate halt. A fireman on scene speculated that the escalator’s rails, which support the steps, broke and caused the collapse. 

Elevator- and escalator-related injuries can happen, but they are rare due to the United States’ fairly strict operating regulations.

Elevators and escalators are big pieces of equipment, and they require regular inspection and maintenance. This is one reason that, while malfunctions do happen, they are rare. 

In California, any business that operates an elevator or escalator must have a permit. According to the Department of Industrial Relations: 

No elevator shall be operated without a valid, current permit issued by the Division. The permit, or a copy thereof, to operate a passenger elevator, freight elevator or incline elevator shall be posted conspicuously and securely in the elevator car. For other devices, the permit shall be available on the premises.

A state inspector must check the condition of the elevator or escalator to determine if it is safe for passengers. In addition to an inspection, the business must submit plans to the state that outline their maintenance service contract. The business will only receive a permit to operate after they complete this process. 

Regular elevator and escalator inspections are not mandatory in certain other countries. For example, one report found that over 110,000 escalators in China have potential safety issues. Of those, close to 30,000 were not repaired as of 2015. In 2014 in China, 37 people were killed as the result of escalator accidents. More than half of all elevator and escalator accidents in the country were connected to maintenance and repair neglect.

The United States, and California in particular, have higher inspection and maintenance standards than other countries. While not perfect—malfunctions can certainly occur during the two years after a business receives a permit—elevator and escalator accidents are fairly rare. 

If you have been injured as the result of an escalator or elevator accident, the experienced lawyers at Penney & Associates are here to help. We have helped people in similar situations earn the injury compensation they deserve. Contact us today for more information. 

* This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic. For a full review of our disclaimer and policies, please click here.

Image looking up at elevator moving up shaft

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