Fatal Elevator Accident Shocks New Yorkers

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A freak accident on an elevator in a Midtown Manhattan office building has taken the life of a 41 year-old woman and shocked an entire city. Suzanne Hart died on the morning of December 14, 2011 as she stepped onto the elevator on the way to her job at an advertising firm. With the elevator doors still open, the car suddenly lurched up while she was halfway in. The car stopped between the first and second floors, trapping her between the elevator and the wall and crushing her to death. It took rescue workers an hour to get two other passengers, who suffered no physical injuries, out of the elevator. Hart was pronounced dead at the scene, but her body could not be retrieved until much later in the day.

658429_39071323_12282011.jpgElevator accidents are rare but provocative occurrences. New York City boasts more than 60,000 elevators, according to the New York Times, and they are an essential feature of the city’s many tall buildings. There were 53 accidents involving elevators in 2011 with three fatalities. The most recent death in an elevator accident prior to this one occurred in September, when a worker for elevator maintenance company Transel Elevator, Inc. fell down an elevator shaft at a building in the Garment District.

Elevators are such a common part of everyday city life that accidents such as these are difficult to imagine, seeming more like something out of a horror movie. In reality, elevators are just one more type of mechanical device on which we rely, but which need regular inspection and maintenance. Much like a car or an airplane, any number of failures could lead to tragedy. A famous story that has already achieved urban legend status illustrates the risks and liabilities. A doctor in Houston, Texas was killed in 2003 when a malfunction caused the elevator doors to close as he entered the car. He was trapped between the doors as the car quickly rose and partially decapitated him. Investigators concluded that a maintenance worker wired the car incorrectly, directly leading to the accident. The doctor’s family sued the elevator company for wrongful death and settled in 2004.

Property owners, landlords, and the maintenance companies they employ have a duty to maintain reasonably safe premises, and they could be liable for injuries or deaths that occur if they breach this duty. The investigation into the accident that caused Hart’s death is still ongoing, but preliminary reports have indicated that Transel Elevator, the same company that lost an employee in the September accident, was performing electrical maintenance on the elevator car hours before the accident. This is reportedly the focus of the investigation by the city’s Department of Buildings. Whatever the specific cause of the accident, it is remarkable because of the seemingly simultaneous failure of all the elevator’s safety mechanisms, which are supposed to prevent movement of the car while the doors are open.

Connecticut Woman Enters Guilty Plea Over Deadly DWI Accident

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The woman responsible for a fatal crash in May 2011 pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter in late November. Yadira Torres, a 26 year-old warehouse worker, agreed to serve between five and eight years in prison. A judge will determine the specific length of sentencing in February. Torres has not driven since the accident. She is free on $35,000 bail.

The accident occurred at about 6:00 a.m. on May 7. Torres was driving north on Interstate 95, reportedly heading home to Hartford after a night of drinking in Manhattan. She lost control of her Dodge Caliber and hit the tractor trailer she was passing. The collision made the truck flip and spin around, detaching the cab from the trailer. The truck then burst into flames. Both the driver, 42 year-old James Sorto, and his passenger, 18 year-old Kelly Taborda, died in the crash. Sorto was pronounced dead at the scene, although officials would not be able to identify him for several days due to the extent of his burns. Taborda, who was pregnant, died from blunt trauma injuries at Stamford Hospital. Torres and three passengers in her car were treated for minor injuries at Norwalk Hospital. Police arrested Torres at the hospital that day.

Police charged Torres with vehicular manslaughter. In Connecticut, the combination of driving under the influence and a fatal car crash is known as “manslaughter in the second degree with a motor vehicle” and is a class C felony. The law allows prison sentences of one to ten years for conviction of a class C felony. By pleading guilty, Torres has admitted to many aspects of the accident, including being at fault for the crash. Normally, personal injury attorneys would find this information useful.

According to news reports, Torres had minimal coverage under her automobile insurance policy. Taborda’s family reportedly decided not to pursue a lawsuit for damages or wrongful death against Torres. Although there should be more than enough evidence to support a wrongful death claim, a cardinal rule of civil claims is not to commit the time and expense of a claim when it is certain that the defendant lacks the ability to pay a settlement or judgment. With no insurance and a lengthy prison sentence looming, the defendant in this case most likely lacks the means to satisfy a judgment if one existed.