Product Liability

NYC elevator death blamed on ignoring basic safety measures

An investigation into the brutal elevator death of a New York City advertising executive “starkly showed safety protocols were ignored,” according to the city’s Department of Investigation Commissioner.

Suzanne Hart, 41, was killed December 14 after the office elevator she was stepping into suddenly shot upward, trapping her by the leg and crushing her between the car and shaft. The horrific incident occurred in the Madison Avenue office building of Young & Rubicam, where Ms. Hart was director of new business.

Video surveillance recordings show two workers of Transel Elevator, an elevator maintenance and repair company, leaving the Young & Rubicam office building at 9:55 a.m. Ms. Hart stepped onto elevator number nine, which the technicians had just serviced, at 9:56 a.m.

A Department of Investigations report says that seven Transel employees were working in the building’s offices at the time. One worker servicing the elevator that killed Ms. Hart overrode a mechanism that prevents elevators from moving with open doors by installing a jumper wire. He performed the override because the other mechanics were reportedly having trouble reaching the top of the car.

Instead of turning the safety switch back on, the workers completed their work and left the building, failing to reactivate the safety device. Moments later, two passengers stepped inside elevator nine and pressed the call button, prompting the elevator to jolt upward with its doors still open, just as Ms. Hart was stepping inside. The passengers were trapped inside the elevator car with Ms. Hart’s body until emergency responders could free them later that morning.

“These workers and their supervisors failed to follow the most basic safety procedures, and their carelessness cost a woman her life,” Robert D. LiMandri, New York City’s Department of Buildings commissioner, said in a statement. “New Yorkers who commute to work each day must rely on workers to maintain our buildings in a safe manner at all times, and these employees betrayed that public trust,” he added.

According to the New York Times, one of the workers who serviced elevator nine denied knowing that a jumper wire had been installed while the worker who installed the wire denied having left it in place and re-engaging the safety circuit. The workers also failed to post a warning that maintenance work was being performed, which is required by the city’s building code. The workers also failed to call the Buildings Department for a legally required inspection before putting the lift back into service.

The Buildings Department issued 23 violations to Transel for the deadly incident, with proposed penalties of $117,000. The agency also suspended Transel’s license pending a hearing where the license will likely be permanently revoked. Young & Rubicam was cited with 11 safety violations. The agency hasn’t said whether there will be criminal charges.

After Ms. Hart’s death, the Buildings Department launched a sweeping inspection of nearly 700 elevators in 169 building across New York City, including 370 elevators maintained by Transel. Of the 135 violations the agency issued for safety violations, 71 went to Transel.


The New York Times