Thursday, November 3, 2011

Failure to address elevator maintenance comes back to haunt Condominium Association.

A case out of Palm Beach County recently addressed the issue of a condominium association's failure to maintain its elevators and the resulting injury to a condominium employee.

In Westervelt v. Thyssenkrupp Elevator Corporation and Toscana North Condominium Association, Inc.(Fla. App. 4 Dist.), association concierge, Jane Westervelt, was injured when the condominium elevator in which she was riding came to an abrupt stop. Westervelt sued both the elevator company, Thyssenkrupp, as well as the Toscana North Condominium Association.

Westervelt's expert testified at trial that the accident was caused by a small piece of wood that hit an elevator mechanism. This same expert testified that had chicken wire been installed, it would have prevented wood and other debris from interfering with the elevator's mechanism and thus, would have prevented the accident that injured Westervelt.

Installing this type of chicken wire is apparently a fairly routine and simple solution particularly for buildings under construction where construction materials are transported in the elevators and can create problems in the absence of such measures.

The Toscana building had been completed two years before Westervelt's accident but both the association and the elevator company were aware that many residents were bringing construction materials into the elevators to finish their units. In fact, another association employee who was in charge of maintaining the elevators at the condominium had previously notified the board that he had observed wood in the elevator pit and on top of the elevator car.

One of the elements of a negligence cause of action is a "duty or obligation recognized by law, requiring the defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct for the protection of others against unreasonable risks."

The lower court in this case directed a verdict in favor of Thyssenkrupp and the Toscana Condominium Association and the Appellate Court reversed that directed verdict and remanded the case for a new trial.

This case does answer the question asked by many boards, "Can we be sued if X goes wrong with the elevator, doors, etc.?" If a board has been negligent in maintaining or repairing a common element, the answer is a resounding "Yes" you might be liable.

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