How Does This Driver Fall into Open Elevator Shaft but Collect Big?

Lipkin & Apter was contacted by another law firm 2 days before the Statute of Limitations was to expire, to investigate whether there was a cause of action for a 52 yr old Jewel Foods delivery driver falling into a 10’ elevator shaft while unloading his truck, resulting in severe injuries. The slip and fall accident resulted in our client undergoing 5 surgeries: two on his foot, and one each on his back, wrist and elbow.

Our trial attorneys contacted an elevator expert, and together with our client, met the expert the following day at the Jewel location, where, with Jewel’s permission, we inspected the elevator components, doors and controls. Our client fell into the open shaft because a Jewel co-worker had “bugged” the elevator interlock by placing a piece of cardboard into it, allowing the elevator car to leave the loading dock while the outside elevator doors were open.

The practice of bugging an elevator was commonplace at Jewel, despite company rules prohibiting it. On the day of his slip and fall accident, our client knew the elevator had been bugged and that the shaft hazard existed. Instead of refusing to work until the hazard was removed, our client acquiesced in the elevator being bugged. He fell while using a fork lift truck to maneuver a pallet onto the elevator, losing track of his whereabouts on the loading dock. At trial, it would be very likely a jury would hold our client partly responsible for causing his accident.

Under Illinois law, if an injured party is found to be less than 50% contributorily negligent, then compensation awarded by the jury will be reduced by plaintiff’s percentage of negligence. But if an injured party is more than 50% responsible for an accident, he will receive no compensation. Beyond our client’s own negligence for his accident, we were precluded from suing Jewel Foods, as all work related injuries are limited to Workers Compensation cases. So the immediate issue was whether another entity was responsible for the accident, beyond our client and Jewel.

Two years before the accident, the Jewel freight elevator had undergone a renovation. Our expert told us that the elevator company which installed the new components, and the company supplying those components, were also negligent for our client’s accident, in failing to provide a mechanical device which would prevent interlocks from being bugged. Elevator Safety Codes since 1955 required plug proof interlocks, and manufacturers of elevator components had been warning about the dangers of interlocks without plug proof attachments for many years. Even though the elevator passed inspection after the renovation without the plug proof attachment, our position was that the elevator installer and supplier had an independent duty of care to users of the Jewel freight elevator to make sure that it was in compliance with safety codes, and the recommendations of the elevator industry.

Successful Resolution: $850,000

The parties decided to submit the case for mediation before the recently retired Chief of the Cook County Courts system. The parties, attorneys and insurance representatives were all in attendance. Following an 8 hour mediation, the defendant elevator installer and defendant parts supplier agreed to pay our client $875,000. In addition to the personal injury case, our client had also filed a workers compensation case. Monies received from a worker’s compensation case have to be repaid when there is a successful personal injury case resolution. Lipkin & Apter was able to resolve a nearly $500,000 workers compensation lien for only $25,000 repayment.