How Often Are People Killed by Elevators?

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    A lot of people have problems with elevators.  People who have claustrophobia might feel uncomfortable stepping into such a small space, and people with a fear of heights might feel uncomfortable going so high up – especially at the speed that some express elevators go in high-rises and skyscrapers.  Disasters in movies and TV shows often add to this discomfort, but how well-founded are these fears?  Are elevators actually dangerous?

    The Center for Protection of Workers’ Rights (CPWR) in a 2013 report looked at 18 years of data and found that 263 people died in the U.S. while working on or near elevators, and another 89 passengers died while at work.  Moreover, another 91 elevator deaths resulted for non-workers in a different 13.5-year period.  This is not particularly recent data, but it shows that these accidents happen a lot more than people might expect.  Wikipedia even keeps a list of elevator accidents.

    If you or a loved one was injured in an accident on someone’s property, the personal injury lawyers at The Carrion Law Firm can help.  Call us today at (718) 841-0083 for a free case review.

    How Dangerous Are Elevators?

    As mentioned, the CPWR report looked at not only accidents to passengers but also injuries to workers working on or near elevators.  Elevator technicians, construction workers, and even janitors were all included in these statistics, with elevator workers facing the most injuries out of these professions.  Most of these accidents, however, happened while installing or repairing the elevators or while working within the elevator shaft – so some of these accidents did not really involve the elevator itself.  For example, falls down an open elevator shaft count in these stats.

    Injuries to passengers on elevators – looking at worker injuries and non-worker injuries – mostly stemmed from falls.  Specifically, the report points out that most of these falls did not involve the elevator falling but rather problems causing the door to open to an empty elevator shaft, with the injury victims falling into the open shaft.

    Overall, when you compare these stats to the millions of people who use elevators every day in every building with an elevator across the country, these injuries account for such a small incidence.  The number of successful, complication-free elevator trips per day across the country vastly outweighs this number of injuries, even if the number of injuries is quite a bit higher than one might expect.

    With an overall total of 443 deaths studied in the report in question – which looked at a wide span of years – it is obvious that elevators are overall quite safe.  However, when elevator maintenance goes wrong or when problems with the elevator go unnoticed, that’s when accidents are most common.

    How Do Elevator Accidents Happen?

    This report discussed different ways that accidents happen.  Some of these types of accidents come from that report, while others come from various news stories.  But first, a warning: some of these accidents might be quite gruesome or uncomfortable to read about:

    Falls Down Open Shafts

    Most elevator accidents appear not to involve the actual elevator but rather an open shaft.  Problems with elevators can cause the doors not to close after the elevator car leaves the floor.  This leaves the doors wide open, making them a risk for anyone walking along or trying to enter the elevator car.  You never expect to step into an elevator only to find the floor missing, but this does happen.

    This is often a deadly accident, as falling down an elevator shaft can mean falling a long way.


    One of the biggest fears of malfunctioning elevators is that the elevator could fall or rise while someone has a body part across the opening into the hallway.  A New York Times article from 1883 documents perhaps one of the earliest elevator accidents on record, with a 15-year-old boy being decapitated by an elevator.

    Crushing Injuries

    If someone’s whole body is across the doors and the elevator begins to move, the force of the elevator could crush them rather than sever a limb.  This kind of accident could be survivable, but it is likely a deadly injury as well.

    Elevator Freefalls

    Especially in the U.S., elevators have counterweights and redundant cables specifically to prevent them from falling down the elevator shaft.  Even when elevators do fall, they have emergency brakes that should kick in to stop the elevator from slipping any further down the shaft.  If they do somehow fall all the way down, there are also usually large stoppers at the bottom intended to slow the elevator’s fall and protect the people inside.  As such, these kinds of accidents are incredibly rare in the United States and result in injuries very infrequently.

    For example, in 2018, a Chicago elevator fell 84 floors after a cable broke.  No one was injured, though the riders did have to be evacuated by hammering through a concrete wall to get access to the elevator.

    Being Trapped

    A claustrophobe’s biggest fear has been reality for some victims of elevator accidents.  For example, there is security footage online of a man who was stuck in an elevator for 41 hours after a malfunction.  Often, this results in severe discomfort and psychological harm, but often results in little physical harm beyond severe hunger and thirst.

    Deadly 2019 Manhattan Elevator Accident

    As mentioned, elevator falls caused by a snapped cable or broken system are rare.  However, in 2019, a sudden elevator drop (not from a snapped cable) caused a man to be stuck between the elevator car and the shaft.  Firefighters pronounced the 30-year-old dead on the scene, and investigators and reporters found a history of unsafe elevators and reported elevator issues in the apartment building where the man died.

    In cases like this, our New York City personal injury lawyers are available to help victims seek compensation for injuries from elevator accidents as well as families of victims killed by dangerous elevators.

    Call Our New York Personal Injury Lawyers Today

    If you were injured in an accident or lost a loved one in an accident, call The Carrion Law Firm’s Long Island personal injury lawyers today at (718) 841-0083.