Woman Injured in 2016 CJC Elevator Crash Had Her Civil Suit Tossed. Here’s Why

Woman Injured in 2016 CJC Elevator Crash Had Her Civil Suit Tossed. Here’s Why

Philadelphia Judge Shelley Robins New’s decision to dismiss the case came less than a year after former sheriff’s deputy Paul Owens, who was paralyzed from the waist down after the crash, settled his claims against several elevator manufacturers for $20.5 million.

By Max Mitchell | December 06, 2019 at 04:19 PM

CJC elevator crash

A woman who was injured in the 2016 elevator crash at Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center has had her lawsuit against the elevator companies dismissed because she failed to produce an expert supporting her claims, a state judge has said.

In September, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Shelley Robins New dismissed the claims that Beverly Smith brought against four elevator companies, arguing their alleged negligence caused the 2016 elevator crash that left a sheriff’s deputy paralyzed and rocked the legal community. In a newly released opinion, Robins New shed light on her reasons for dismissing the case, and asked the state Superior Court to affirm her decision that dismissed the cases on summary judgment.

A woman who was injured in the 2016 elevator crash at Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center has had her lawsuit against the elevator companies dismissed because she failed to produce an expert supporting her claims, a state judge has said.

In September, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Shelley Robins New dismissed the claims that Beverly Smith brought against four elevator companies, arguing their alleged negligence caused the 2016 elevator crash that left a sheriff’s deputy paralyzed and rocked the legal community. In a newly released opinion, Robins New shed light on her reasons for dismissing the case, and asked the state Superior Court to affirm her decision that dismissed the cases on summary judgment.

According to the 15-page opinion, plaintiff Smith contended that a jury should be able to make an inference that there was negligence given the fact that an investigation into the elevator crash determined that eight bolts near the motor had failed. However, Robins New determined that Smith failed to meet her burden of proof without expert testimony.

Courts in Pennsylvania, she said, have not held that expert testimony is needed in all elevator malfunction cases, but, she noted, the Superior Court has held that expert testimony was needed in an elevator case involving mis-leveling. The judge also said that appellate court has further acknowledged in other cases that expert testimony is important in elevator malfunction suits.

READ THE OPINION:


“To establish that [the defendants’] conduct caused her damages, [Smith] needed expert testimony,” Robins New said. “This is so because ‘how bolts are caused to break and … become loose’ requires analysis ‘beyond the scope of the average juror’s normal experience.’”

Robins New’s decision to dismiss the case came less than a year after former sheriff’s deputy Paul Owens, who was paralyzed from the waist down after the crash, settled his claims against several elevator manufacturers for $20.5 million.

Owens and Smith had been in two separate non-public elevators when the crash occurred in August 2016.

According to the decision, the elevator Owens was riding suddenly began moving upward at a high rate of speed before it crashed through the ceiling of the elevator shaft. The crash made a loud noise, and caused some concrete debris to fall onto the roof of the elevator that was carrying Smith. This caused Smith’s elevator to rock, which allegedly caused Smith to sustain neck and back injuries. The loud crash and jostling of the elevator also led Smith to allegedly believe the building may have been the subject of a terrorist attack, which also caused her great mental trauma, Robins New said.

The CJC is owned by the Philadelphia Municipal Authority, which entered into an agreement with U.S. Facilities to manage the building and provide elevator mechanics, the opinion said. U.S. Facilities, however, entered into an agreement with Schindler Elevator Corp. to perform preventative maintenance, inspection, replacement and repairs. That contract ended in June 2016, at which point U.S. Facilities entered into a new subcontracting agreement to have Thyssenkrupp Elevator Co. provide the same services.

After the crash, there was an investigation that revealed the loose bolts, and, according to Robins New, that the bolts had last been removed and installed by a predecessor company to Otis Elevator Co.

Smith sued U.S. Facilities, Thyssenkrupp, Otis and Schindler, alleging negligence.

After Robins New dismissed the case on summary judgment, Smith appealed the decision in October.

Arnold Dranoff of Dranoff and Patrizio, who represents Smith, said he felt that, due to the loose screws and the unusual nature of how the other elevator car flew upward, sending debris down on his client’s elevator car, there was enough inference of negligence that a jury should have been allowed to consider the case under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. He also said he felt there was evidence the bolts had not been properly tightened, and they had not been handled using the proper tools.

“You do not need an expert to testify,” he said. “That does not normally happen without something being done wrong.”

Broomall attorney David Robbins, who is working with Dranoff on the case, also said there was caselaw to support the argument the case should be allowed before a jury.

“There are a good number of cases in Pennsylvania where res ipsa loquitur was involved in an elevator accident case and it was permitted,” Robbins said.

Nancy Nolan of Shimberg & Friel represented Thyssenkrupp. Michele Miller of Lavin, Cedrone, Graver, Boyd & DiSipio represented Otis. Keith Johnston of Lucas and Cavalier represented Schindler, and Gregory Mallon of Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy represented U.S. Facilities.

Johnston said he agreed with Robins New’s opinion and thought it was “well-founded.” Nolan, Miller and Mallon declined to comment.

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