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Massachusetts Escalator Accidents and Liability for injuries at Malls and Department Stores

Escalators are unique machines as they are in constant use but are rarely under supervision. Courts have considered under what circumstances manufacturers, installers, owners, or maintainers of escalators can be liable for injuries resulting from an escalator.

Common Carriers
In the United States, a common carrier is a person or other commercial enterprise that transports passengers for a fee and establishes that their service is open to the general public. Some common examples of a common carrier are railroads, airlines, and taxi services. Common carriers are held to a slightly higher standard of care than individuals, they are required to provide their passengers with the utmost duty of care. For example, common carriers are liable for injuries suffered by passengers as a result of a carrier’s negligence but do not ensure passenger safety. Companies and drivers are not responsible for injuries that happen because of causes that are out of their control.

States differ of whether an escalator is a common carrier. In Massachusetts, the law is that escalators are not common carrier because the rider of an escalator still has control over himself while the rider of an elevator or a taxi does not.

Manufacturer flaws

A defective escalator can lead to various injuries. Courts in Massachusetts have held that a manufacturer can be liable for a defective elevator even if the manufacturer is well down the line of production. In Lou v. Otis Elevator Co., 77 Mass. App. Ct. 571 (2010), the appellate court found in favor of a plaintiff who as a child, injured his hand on an elevator that was made and manufactured in China.

However, even if the elevator has an inherent flaw, a court must find that the flaws are significantly related to the injury. Even when a design defect exists, a plaintiff has the burden of proving that the design defect was legally causative of the injury.

Maintenance flaws
Even if an escalator isn’t made defective, it can become defective over years of maintenance neglect. Many escalator negligence cases arise under this theory of recovery. For example, in Snow v. Metro. Transit Auth., 323 Mass. 21 (1948) evidence that the rubber handrail of an escalator was so worn that it came off and ensnared the plaintiff was sufficient to warrant a finding against the defendant.

In cases where escalator maintenance is an issue, plaintiffs should examine the records of the escalator in question to see if these recommended regular maintenance trips were done, but also to ascertain if any nonregular maintenance was done on the escalator. These nonregular maintenance trips can be important in determining who had notice of a potentially dangerous condition.

Fault of another
However, one cannot sue the owner or maintenance of the elevator as the result of a third party action. In Alake v. City of Bos., 40 Mass. App. Ct. 610 (1996) summary judgment was granted to the city of Boston resulting from an escalator injury caused by a group of rowdy high school students. The plaintiff was injured when students on a field trip were pushing each other on the same escalator she was riding. The court held that the city was immune from claim that school district was negligent in deciding how many chaperones to send on field trip, but city was not immune from claim that chaperones were negligent in their supervision of students in their charge. However, the plaintiff could not recover from the owner of the escalator for the negligence of a third party.

Similarly, in Botteri v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Authority, 1996 Mass. App. Div. 178, 1996 WL 628082 (1996), a group of youngsters pushed the safety button on the escalator, causing the sudden stop of the machine and the plaintiff to fall. the plaintiff failed to show that the sudden stop of the escalator, causing him to fall, was more likely due to the defendant’s negligence than to a third party pushing the safety button. Because of the third party’s actions, the plaintiff could not recover from the owner of the escalator.  Call DelSignore Law at 781-686-5924.

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