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Fix could have stopped elevator injuries

Products often pose unintentional risks to their users. But an elevator installation defect known for almost 70 years to companies and regulators has caused personal injury to children that could have been prevented.

Small children were caught between elevator doors and killed and injured when the upper door frame above hit them or when they fell into the elevator shaft. A $100 space guard would have eliminated the gap that caused these accidents.

This problem involves residential elevators which were installed in up to 500,000 residential structures and were considered desirable for townhouses and beach houses. The elevators cost as low as $15,000 and were usually purchased by customers with a disability or who are older. Many older apartment buildings still have them.

Residential elevators are different from commercial elevators because these are equipped with swinging and accordion doors while commercial elevators have sliding doors. The gap between the two doors on these residential elevators is too small for adults but little children may fall into it.

At least eight children were killed, and two others suffered serious injuries in elevator entrapments since 1981. But accidents may be underreported. The Consumer Product Safety Commission uncovered 131 injuries and many of these accidents involved hand injuries.

Otis Elevator learned that its swing-door elevators killed or injured 34 children from 1983 to 1994. These were mostly entrapment accidents in just New Jersey and southern New York. But internal industry memos as far back as 1943 also exposed this hazard.

Experts argued for changes the country's elevator code in 2005 to reduce the dangerous gap. The code was finally amended in 2017 after more accidents.

However, this amendment only governed the installation of new elevators. Thousands of elevators that were installed before this change are still in operation even though they still have this defect.

The CPSC, the federal agency with jurisdiction with regulating elevator safety, has done little to correct this problem. But it was aware of this problem since 1981 and studied this matter closely since 2013.

An attorney can help victims file a product liability or personal injury lawsuit. Lawyers may help assure that compensation is sought for unsafe products.

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