In the United States alone, people have access to around 35,000 escalators in malls, business offices, airports, and other buildings. Most of the time, riders step on and off escalators without incident. Occasionally, horrific accidents happen, including a 2015 case in China, where a mother fell into the collapsed panel at the top of a mall escalator. Moments before she fell into the shaft to her death, she pushed her small son to safety. When accidents happen, liability laws determine who faces financial responsibility for resulting injuries and deaths.
Causes of Escalator Injuries and Liability
Escalator incidents occur under a variety of circumstances. The cause of the injury often helps investigators understand contributing factors and ultimate liability. Consider the potentially liable parties and common causes of escalator accidents:
- You. Escalator operators, manufacturers, and maintenance crews are only responsible for maintaining equipment according to industry standards, warning riders of possible hazards, and designing/manufacturing equipment that meets safety standards. If you decide to travel the wrong way on an escalator, ignore gated-off equipment, or attempt parkour movements while riding the escalator, you may not be able to hold anyone else responsible for your injuries.
In cases involving rider negligence, the courts may use the state’s comparative negligence rules to assign fault in a case. Under Texas laws, if you are more than half at fault for the incident, you cannot recover damages in a personal injury claim.
- The owner/operator. An escalator is as much a part of a property owner’s premises as the handrails on the second story of the mall or a revolving door. Depending on the nature of the incident, the owner/operator may face liability for resulting injuries. Owners/operators are responsible scheduling and conducting routine inspections, maintaining escalators according to code, and roping off/stopping escalators that pose safety hazards.
- The escalator manufacturer. As a piece of equipment third parties sell, an escalator falls under the purview of product liability law. If the manufacturing process, design, or warnings that come with the escalator contribute to a rider’s injury, the manufacturer may face legal responsibility for the aftereffects. For example, an owner could properly inspect and maintain the equipment but fail to see a design or manufacturing flaw that causes the escalator to jerk, move too quickly, or otherwise malfunction. If both the owner and manufacturer failed, they may share liability for the incident.
Depending on the case and jurisdiction, the courts may impose strict liability on the owners and operators. Courts may use this stringent standard when they define escalators as a mode of public transportation. All so-called “common carriers” must adhere to an increased duty of care to ensure rider safety. In these cases, the plaintiff does not need to prove the defendant was negligent to recover. He or she must only prove the defendant was legally responsible for the incident.
Pursuing Escalator Accident Claims
Escalator incidents can lead to significant physical trauma. When preventable escalator incidents occur, they can change someone’s life in a second. Nobody expects their commute home, shopping trip, or airport terminal travel to result in a severe injury. For children, an accident can alter the future including income generating capabilities and quality of life. For adults, accidents can lead to time away from work, financial struggles, and more.
After an escalator-related injury, report the incident to the operator or manager on duty. File an accident report, and seek medical assistance. Keep as many records of the incident as possible, including pictures of the defect or video recordings of the incident. If you do not recover quickly and fully from the incident, consider speaking to an attorney about your legal options. A personal injury attorney can help you identify the liable parties in your case and pursue appropriate legal action.