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Elevator 101 – Elevator Inspection Liability (Part 2)

Second in a series by Barry Robbins

It is widely acknowledged that elevators have significantly impacted architectural design and are an indispensable component of modern buildings, providing an efficient means of transporting people and goods between different floors. Interestingly, the story regarding the inventor of the elevator is that he never filed a patent and never realized the success of his invention, but his family name still remains one the most recognized in the world.

Elisha Graves Otis, a doll maker by profession, is credited with inventing the "Safety Elevator," which debuted at the New York World’s Fair in 1853. Despite being 42 years old at the time of his invention, Otis did not live long enough to witness the widespread use of his creation, as he passed away at the age of 49. In addition to the elevator, Otis invented the steam engine, greatly facilitating the elevator’s vertical movement and making it faster.

The selection of the name "Safety Elevator" was a crucial factor in the invention’s success. To this day, it remains essential to remember that elevators can either be the most valuable asset or a significant liability for associations, depending on whether they are proactively maintained and regularly inspected for safety. Neglecting elevator maintenance and inspections can have severe consequences, including accidents and injuries that can result in expensive civil lawsuits. In some cases, the association and manager may also be held accountable for failing to conduct the necessary annual state inspections.

Regular inspections play a crucial role in maintaining a stable balance between a reactive and proactive position that ensures elevators operate smoothly, adhere to safety regulations, and remain free of defects. Annual state inspections are mandatory by law, and failure to carry them out can result in legal and financial ramifications.

The absence of yearly inspections may lead to elevator accidents, which have the potential to cause severe injuries or even fatalities. Associations and managers may be deemed responsible for any harm or property damage resulting from elevator malfunctions or accidents. The failure to conduct regular inspections can lead to heightened insurance expenses. Insurance providers may mandate periodic inspections as a prerequisite for coverage, and noncompliance can result in raised insurance premiums or the loss of coverage. 

Failing to conduct the required inspections could result in civil and criminal legal proceedings that could be deemed as wrongdoing and negligence, exposing the association and manager to potential litigation. The following stories are a few incidents you can seek online:

  •  In a negligence case, the association and property management group sought to hold the elevator contractor accountable, arguing that their regular visits should have identified the out-of-date inspection and safety issues that led to the injury. However, the courts determined that if a part needed replacement, the repairman would seek authorization from the building owner. The court’s rationale was that since the building owner maintained some control over the elevators and the defendant’s contract was limited in scope, the defendant did not have exclusive control over the elevators. It therefore ruled that the association and management were liable.
  •  In a separate legal case, a property manager contended that the responsibility for an injury claim against the association and property management group should lie with the elevator contractor based on their full maintenance service contract. However, the courts rejected this argument and held the association and management accountable. They cited a clause in the service contract that assigned the responsibility of reporting faulty operations and state inspections to the association, not the elevator contractor. Additionally, the court noted that the service contract solely covered mechanical failures and not the safety settings mandated by state codes. Consequently, the court concluded that the service contract did not encompass safety settings, leading to the association and the property management group bearing full liability in the case.

These cases underscore the importance of associations diligently completing all required state and city inspections. Failure to do so can result in serious legal consequences, including fines, penalties, and even criminal charges. Associations and managers must prioritize their properties’ compliance with all applicable regulations to avoid potential liability.

Property managers should collaborate with qualified elevator inspectors to ensure that all necessary inspections are conducted regularly to avoid potential legal and financial consequences stemming from outdated inspections. The State of California is currently facing a backlog of elevator inspections, and they issue letters of compliance for property managers to display in the elevator as a temporary measure to avoid state penalties. However, the effectiveness of these compliance letters in a court of law remains uncertain. To research case law, access legal databases such as Westlaw, LexisNexis, or FindLaw to explore cases involving elevator inspections, compliance, and liability. You may need a subscription to access some of these databases.

Elevators are a crucial component of modern buildings, but they can also be a liability for homeowner associations and property managers if they are not adequately maintained and inspected. Failure to do so can result in serious accidents, injuries, and legal and financial consequences. By conducting regular inspections and addressing any issues identified in a timely manner, homeowner associations and property managers can help ensure the safety of building occupants and avoid potential litigation.

In the State of California, there are only a few options to request a Certified Elevator Inspection with 6,000 elevators with expired inspection certificates. Chances are the elevator at your property needs a Certified State Inspection.


Barry Robbins has a vast background as the CEO of SL777 Operations, an elevator mediation service and holder of several elevator patents mandated by Cal-OSHA and ASME. He also owns a design-build construction company, and this background provides a unique understanding of elevators, fire and life safety, and building construction.



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