Understanding Elevator Injury Law in Washington State

Chances are, we’ve all had a moment feeling unnerved while riding an elevator. What if an elevator traps you, or it suddenly drops? Or maybe you’ve squeezed in an elevator that felt a bit too crowded and you’ve wondered about weight capacities.

So today we’ll look at how likely you really are to be in an elevator accident, and who’s most at risk. Since we’re Washington personal injury lawyers, we’re also going to spend some time discussing liability and what legal recourse you have if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.

How Common are Elevator Injuries?

The good news is that elevator injuries are very rare occurrences. In fact, you’re more likely to get struck by lightning or even hurt going down your stairs. Deaths caused from elevator accidents are even rarer still.

Consider these statistics from the CDC:

  • Elevator accidents injure about 17,000 people in the US.
  • Elevator accidents kill about 30 people in the US.

To put it into perspective, Americans make about 18 billion elevator trips per year, so only a tiny fraction of those go sideways. While an elevator accident is a frightening event, thankfully, it’s one most of us won’t ever experience.

What are Some Causes of Elevator Accidents?

Even though elevator events are rare, they do still happen. Some of the ways an elevator accident can happen include:

  • Faulty wiring
  • Falls through an open shaft
  • Pulley system malfunction
  • Door malfunctions
  • Unbalanced leveling (when floors do not line up properly)

It’s important that property owners make sure to have their elevators undergo regular safety inspections. They also have a duty to make sure to complete repairs in the event of a recall.

Who do Elevator Accidents Hurt?

Unfortunately, elevator accidents tend to hurt a few vulnerable groups more than others. These include:

  • Elevator workers: The group at highest risk of injury are elevator workers. Workers have been injured and killed when dealing with electrical systems or falling into open shafts
  • Construction workers: Freight elevators are designed to carry heavy loads at construction sites. These types of elevators can pose increased danger to construction workers, such as falls
  • Children: Elevators have seriously injured, crushed, and even killed children. For example, several children have been killed in home elevators by being pinned between the doors (Sadly, a $100 part may have prevented these accidents)
  • Elderly: Elderly populations are at higher risk in general for serious injuries from falls. It’s not surprising then that there have been trips when coming in or off an elevator

All told, work-related incidents account for roughly half of all elevator accidents every year, putting them in the highest risk group.

So, Should I Just Not Worry about Elevator Accidents?

While elevator injuries don’t often happen, there are a couple things that concern us as personal injury attorneys.

First, there is a backlog of elevator inspections. An article published in October 2019 showed that roughly 9,500 of Washington State’s elevators haven’t been inspected in years. This raises the probability that some elevators in operation right now are unsafe.

Our second concern deals with elevator recalls. Currently, if an elevator has a recall, the manufacturer only has to alert the property owner. It’s their responsibility to act and make sure repairs take place. Residents, occupants, workers, and other frequent users of the elevator may have no idea a recall has been issued – or if it’s been addressed.

What are Washington’s Laws about Elevators?

Washington State law has quite a bit to say about elevators, lifting devices, and other moving walkways. When these people movers aren’t property maintained, they can be hazardous to the public. The goal of these laws is to prevent accidents from happening in the first place.

While there are many laws about elevators in Washington – we’re summarizing a few in the table below.

RCW 70.87.020Conveyance to be safe and in conformity with law.Elevators should be well maintained and kept safe to prevent injuries to workers and the public.
RCW 70.87.060Responsibility for operation and maintenance of equipment and for periodic tests.It’s the owner’s responsibility to ensure the elevator is safe for use. They are responsible for periodic tests.
RCW 70.87.100Conveyance work to be performed by elevator contractors – Acceptance tests – Inspectors.All work needs to be performed by an elevator contractor employing an elevator mechanic.
RCW 70.87.180Violations.It’s a misdemeanor for work to be completed on an elevator by someone other than an elevator mechanic. Each day of violation is considered a separate offense.
RCW 70.87.190Accidents – Report and investigation – Cessation of use – Removal of damaged parts.A report must be made if an accident happens. The elevator should be put out of use until it’s been made safe again.
RCW 70.87.240Elevator contractor license, elevator mechanic license – Qualifications – Reciprocity.This RCW outlines the qualifications needed to obtain an elevator contractor license.
RCW 70.87.305Private residence conveyances – Licensing requirements – Rules.Elevators in private residences still have licensing requirements. However, they don’t have to adhere to maintenance reporting if not for public use. The exception is if the residence is an adult family home or assisted living facility.

For the complete list of Washington elevator laws, see Chapter 70.87 RCW – Elevators, Lifting Devices, and Moving Walks.

What Legal Options Do I Have After an Elevator Accident?

The short answer is you should call a lawyer because every situation is different. Ladenburg Law offers free consultations and want to hear what happened to you.

Depending on the circumstances of your accident, there may be several responsible parties for your injuries. During our investigation, we’ll want to uncover:

  • Was this a worksite injury?
  • Had there been a recall on any of the elevator components?
  • Did the manufacturer alert the property owner of any recall?
  • How often did safety inspections happen?

As you can see, it’s possible more than one party is liable, and only a thorough review will make this clear. And yes, we will go after every possible defendant in your case.

Give us a call if we can assist with your elevator injury claim (or any personal injury claim) in Washington.

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