Using an elevator or escalator is a common part of the day for many people. From stepping into a hotel elevator, to hopping onto an escalator to glide between shopping mall levels, most people don’t give it a second thought. These inventions are designed to make your day easier, and it beats taking the stairs. But sometimes technology fails. When it does, these everyday mechanisms can become dangerous, and escalator and elevator accidents are more common than you might think.
Read on for a rundown of escalator and elevator accidents and injuries. We’ll show you how they work, the most common injuries you can sustain, and even some of the most extreme real-life injury incidents. If you or a loved one have been involved in an accident like this, the escalator and elevator injury lawyers at Bisnar Chase can help.
How Escalators and Elevators Work
Everyone knows what escalators and elevators are. But many people do not know – or have never thought about – how they work. We like to be thorough, and we’re here to give you the full lowdown.
Escalators are essentially moving staircases, allowing you to move up or down across vertical spaces without having to do the stepping yourself. Flat moving walkways using similar systems are also widely used. Here are a few key escalator facts:
- The first working escalator was created by Jesse W. Reno. It was built in 1896 and installed next to Coney Island’s Old Iron Pier in New York.
- Steps are usually made from stainless steel or aluminum, and generally form into an incline of about 30%.
- Escalators move at a constant speed of around 1-2 feet per second.
- The longest single escalators in the world are in underground Metro train stations in Saint Petersburg, Russia. These escalators measure up to 453 feet long and 226 feet high.
- Most escalators are powered by 100-horsepower electric motors, with the steps fixed onto tracks which run in a continuous loop – as demonstrated here:
- The basic idea for an elevator-like lifting device can be traced back more than 2000 years.
- Steam-powered elevators were used in mines in the 1800s, and the first electric elevator was built in 1880 Germany. In Europe they are referred to as ‘lifts’.
- There are now more than 900,000 working elevators in the U.S. alone, combining to make hundreds of millions of trips each day.
- Elevators typically work using one of two different systems. The most common is the use of motor-powered traction steel ropes, while some smaller buildings may use a hydraulic piston system. The mechanism will depend on a range of factors, from building size to budget.
Escalator and Elevator Injury Statistics
You might think that accidents caused by escalators and elevators are better suited to movies and soap operas than real life. Elevators in particular are well-used cinematic devices, playing a part in many gruesome and fear-instilling incidents. You can find famous pop culture examples of elevator dangers in everything from the Final Destination movie franchise to L.A. Law.
But we’ll show you that horrifying escalator and elevator injuries are not restricted to over-the-top TV and movie appearances.
Research published in 2013 found that there are about 30 deaths and a whopping 17,000 serious injuries caused by escalators and elevators every year across the United States.
Another study looked specifically at elevator injuries and found that they have a strong chance of causing serious trauma.
The studies have revealed:
- Elevators are responsible for 90% of those 30 annual deaths, and about 60% of the 17,000 injuries
- Almost half of the elevator-related deaths involved installation or maintenance workers
- 75% of all escalator injuries are a result of falling on or from the escalator
- An average of about 2,650 people aged 65+ are injured in slip and fall accidents getting on or off escalators each year
- Nearly 50% of escalator injuries require hospital treatment, with more than half of those injuries needing hospitalization lasting longer than 24 hours
Common Injuries on Escalators and Elevators
Elevator and escalator accidents can be particularly dangerous, with high-grade motors and moving parts powering each device. When this technology malfunctions, or people are careless around it, it can have serious consequences. It is important to be mindful that any injuries sustained from these devices can be significant and life-altering.
Escalator Injury Causes
- Escalator falls. This includes tumbles over the moving handrails on escalators, as well as falls onto the moving metal steps.
- Loose items caught in steps or sides. It can be extremely dangerous for people to get hair, clothing or jewelry caught in the steps or siding of an escalator.
- Mechanical faults. This can involve the escalator suddenly accelerating, coming to a sudden stop, or changing movement direction.
- Installation issues. Missing parts in an escalator mechanism can lead to mechanical issues, while loose parts (such as side panels) can be extremely dangerous to users.
- Inspection or maintenance issues. A lack of proper inspections or sub-par maintenance work can leave escalators prone to hazardous mechanical faults.
Elevator Injury Causes
- Elevator collapses or crashes. This includes the elevator ‘car’ dropping suddenly and crashing against the floor of the shaft.
- Caught in the doors. Most elevator doors have working sensors, but doors can and will close on people – causing injuries and creating an extreme risk if the elevator moves.
- Elevator shaft falls. It may seem unlikely, but it happens. It can include people stepping through the doors when the elevator has not reached the right point, or falling after climbing out of an elevator – perhaps when it has broken down.
- Misaligned stopping point. One of the worst types of elevator accidents occurs when an elevator does not stop at the right point. This can lead people to try to climb in or out through a small gap, which will be deadly if the elevator starts to move as they do so.
- Poor maintenance or mechanical fault. From sudden stops to extreme acceleration, freefalls and crashes, a malfunctioning elevator with non-responsive controls can result in serious accidents and injuries.
Major Escalator and Elevator Deaths and Injuries
There have been some high-profile deaths and injuries caused by escalator and elevators which have hit the news.
Here are some of the very worst accidents that have sparked major headlines across the globe in recent years.
WARNING: Some of the videos below contain graphic scenes which may upset and shock viewers. Please view with caution.
- Mom falls into escalator motor mechanism – 2015 – Hubei, China
Xiang Luijuan, a 30-year-old mother, was killed on a shopping mall escalator. She was heading up the escalator with her young son when the accident happened. As they reached the top, the mother and son stepped onto a faulty floor panel which gave way beneath their feet. Xiang Luijuan managed to push her son to safety, but fell through the floor into the escalator machinery. It was claimed that maintenance workers had failed to properly secure the panel after completing work on the escalator.
- Injuries to 32 people on accelerating escalator – 2003 – Colorado, United States
A three-story-tall escalator malfunctioned at Coors Field stadium, home of the Colorado Rockies baseball team. The elevator suddenly sped downward, with people on it piling into a heap of bodies as they reach the flat ground. The incident left 32 people injured, with ailments ranging from cuts and bruises to bone fractures. It happened at the end of the game when thousands of people were leaving the stadium.
- Out-of-control escalator injures 20 – 2018 – Rome, Italy
An escalator in Rome sped out of control, causing a large person pile-up at the bottom. The escalator was heading down into an underground metro station when the incident happened, leaving about 20 people injured. None of the injuries are thought to be life-threatening. It happened after a soccer match in the Italian capital and involved a large number of CSKA Moscow fans from Russia.
- Woman strangled by trapped scarf – 2014 – Montreal, Canada
A woman was strangled by her own scarf after it became caught in the steps of a subway escalator. Naima Rharouity, 47, died of asphyxiation after her hair, coat and scarf became caught in the escalator mechanism. It is unclear whether she fell down the escalator first, with her scarf becoming caught afterward, or whether the scarf became caught first when she leant forward, pulling her off her feet.
- Leg amputated after being trapped in escalator – 2015 – Shanghai, China
A man’s leg had to be amputated after it became trapped in the motor mechanism of a mall escalator. The victim, aged 35, was a cleaner at the shopping mall where the incident happened. He stepped up to the top of the escalator to clean it, but the metal floor panel collapsed underneath him, trapping his leg. Firefighters eventually managed to release him, but the lower portion of his leg had to be amputated due to the severity of the injuries caused by the escalator.
- Metal siding sliced through leg – 2017 – Sunway City, Malaysia
A woman suffered a horrific injury after a strip of metal siding peeled away on a mall escalator and sliced through her calf. The metal plate from the inner siding of the escalator popped out of place while the woman was standing on the escalator steps. The metal ripped away from the side with such force that it sliced through the woman’s leg, leaving her with a serious wound. Mall officials said the escalator had been recently misused, causing the incident.
- Handrail fall death – 2015 – Kazan, Russia
A man toppled over the handrail of a mall escalator in Russia and fell to his death. He stepped onto the elevator heading down to a lower level, but then lost his balance and flipped over the handrail. Police believe the man, aged 54, may have been drunk, contributing to the fall. As he plummeted onto the floor below, he landed on another unsuspecting shopper. The other shopper was not badly hurt, but the fall victim died from his injuries.
- Escalator malfunction causes injuries to 17 people – 2017 – Hong Kong, China
At least 17 people were hurt after one of the longest indoor escalators in the world sent users hurtling to the ground. The upward-moving 50-yard escalator at Hong Kong’s Langham Place shopping complex suddenly stopped, before reversing direction and shooting down at double speed. Several people fell, and a pile of people formed at the bottom of the escalator – which had passed an inspection just days earlier. It is believed the malfunction may have been caused by a broken chain in the escalator mechanism. One man suffered a serious head injury in the fall.
- Teenager killed in elevator malfunction – 2006 – Minato, Tokyo
A 16-year-old boy was killed as he tried to wheel his bicycle out of an elevator. The accident happened at the high school student’s condo complex. As he was leaving the elevator, it suddenly started rising, though the doors were still open. The teen was stuck half in and half out of the elevator car as it rose and was trapped. He died through asphyxiation.
- Woman suffers hand wound as she frees trapped dog – 2014 – Toronto, Canada
A dog owner in Toronto had to fight to free her dog after its leash became stuck in the doors of an elevator. The owner and her dog entered the elevator together, but the dog’s leash became trapped as the doors closed. As the elevator moved, the dog was hoisted into the air, hanging by its collar. After about 30 seconds, the doors opened, and the dog was released. The owner suffered a serious hand wound as she tried to free her pet in the terrifying incident.
- Couple die after becoming trapped in elevator – 2010 – St. Simons Island, Georgia
An elderly couple died after they were left trapped in a private elevator at their home. Sherwood and Caroline Wadsworth, aged 90 and 89, were using the small elevator in their three-story house when it became stuck between floors. They were unable to move the broken-down elevator or call for help, and eventually died of heat exhaustion.
- Man falls to death in elevator shaft – 2009 – New York, United States
A drummer sustained fatal injuries after falling down an elevator shaft as he tried to escape a broken-down freight elevator. Gerhardt ‘Jerry’ Fuchs, 34, was leaving a benefit when the elevator he was riding in became stuck between the fourth and fifth floors of the building. He tried to climb out of the car and jump to safety, but tumbled down the shaft. He died later in hospital.
- Man injured in elevator error smash – 2014 – Santiago, Chile
A man was injured in a skyscraper in Chile after a technical issue caused it to shoot upward at high speeds. Before the doors had even closed, it started to move at speeds topping 50 miles per hour. It reportedly moved up 31 floors in just 15 seconds. The man inside desperately pressed at the control panel to halt the elevator, but it was unresponsive. He was injured when it crashed into the top of the shaft, sending him flying into the roof of the elevator car.
- Seven injured after elevator cables snap – 2013 – Hong Kong, China
An elevator within a commercial building in Hong Kong dropped suddenly at great speed when all four of its cables snapped. The emergency brake also failed, leaving the elevator to hit the ground at the bottom of the shaft with great force. Seven people inside suffered serious injuries in the crash. It had only reached the first floor when the cables broke, and the passenger injuries would have been even worse if it had reached a greater height.
- Man decapitated by faulty elevator – 1995 – New York, United States
A man suffered a horrific death when he was decapitated while trying to hold a misaligned elevator open for fellow passengers. The office elevator car sped upward and stopped about two feet out of alignment. James Chenault, 55, held the door open with his back to help some of his fellow passengers get out. But as he was still leaning forward in the doorway, the elevator shot up again, decapitating Mr. Chenault.
- Skyscraper elevator drops 84 floors – 2018 – Chicago, United States
Six people were trapped in an elevator car at the former John Hancock Center – the fourth tallest building in Chicago. The elevator started on the 95th floor and went into a rapid descent after a cable broke. It came to a halt between floors, about 10 stories from the ground. Firefighters had to cut through a parking garage wall to release those trapped inside.
These are just some of the many examples of serious – and sometimes deadly – escalator and elevator accidents. Both devices can pose major risks in a variety of different ways, even of you do everything right.
Who is Responsible for an Escalator or Elevator Accident?
In the case of an escalator accident or an injury sustained in an elevator, responsibility and culpability may depend on several different factors. These include where the accident happened, and how it occurred.
Generally speaking, responsibility will lie with the owner or manager of the building in which the accident happened. This will usually be true of accidents on escalators and elevators in apartment and office buildings, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, and other similar locations. Owners and management are ultimately accountable when it comes to the safety of those within their buildings, and must take all reasonable precautions to ensure that safety.
However, responsibility may also be shared by manufacturers, as well as companies which are responsible for installation, inspections and maintenance. It is vital that this equipment is properly installed and maintained, and any failings in these areas can result in severe consequences.
What to do After an Escalator or Elevator Accident
If you or a loved one have been involved in an accident, the escalator and elevator lawyers at Bisnar Chase can help. Victims may be left struggling with lasting pain, medical costs, lost wages, or even emotional trauma. You could be entitled to compensation covering loss, damages and expenses. Our experienced attorneys have handled all kinds of premises liability cases, and will be able to help you identify the best course of action after an elevator or escalator accident.
Turn to the escalator and elevator injury attorneys at Bisnar Chase for a free case evaluation and ‘no win, no fee’ help. We have a 96% success rate over more than 40 years in business and have won more than $650 million for our clients. Our attorneys are dedicated to reaching the best outcome. Contact us now at 949-298-8074.