Sunday, December 11, 2011

Elevator Malfunction Snaps Ankle Leads to Verdict

Elevator malfunction at Pittsburgh hospital causes ankle fracture and jury verdict for the Plaintiff.

On Feb. 16, 2008, plaintiff Ronald A. Stefanakis, a 57-year-old U.S. postal worker, was at West Penn Hospital, in Pittsburgh,  visiting his wife, who had cancer. Stefanakis went down to the cafeteria to get his wife food, which he had done on many other occasions. After getting the food, he planned to take a nearby elevator up to his wife's floor. He pressed the call button and the elevator's doors opened.  As he entered the elevator, and his left trailing foot was caught by the closing doors. The door jerked his body backward into the doors.  Frantic, Stefanakis yanked his leg to get his foot released from the doors.  He yanked one last time, however, just as the doors open.  This caused him to spin in a twisting motion to his left, which resulted in a severe open trimalleolar fracture and posterior displacement of the talus of his left foot.  Stefanakis, bleeding profusely, was assisted by two security officers who put him in a wheelchair and took him into elevator 36 and then to the emergency room. He was initially diagnosed with an open trimalleolar ankle fracture/dislocation and then a left open ankle fracture/dislocation, which required a lavage of the open wound and relocation of the ankle. Three days later, Stefanakis received an open reduction and internal fixation; he subsequently developed several complications, including a wound dehiscence.

The plaintiff, who has Type II Diabetes Mellitus, was given intravenous antibiotic therapy and later discharged, and continued to follow up with West Penn's Foot and Ankle Institute to treat his wound dehiscence and secondary infections. Stefanakis later developed osteomyelitis and an acute Charcot episode involving his left ankle.

Stefanakis sued the hospital and its elevator maintenance company, Schindler Elevator Corp., for negligence.

Plaintiff's counsel Perer argued that the subject elevator malfunctioned, as it was not supposed to permit an accidental entrapment as occurred in the plaintiff's incident.  Plaintiff's elevator maintenance expert testified that Schindler's records showed "sloppy and inconsistent" documentation of the elevator's problems and showed a lack of attention and maintenance to the elevator's problems and a lack of clear explanation as to the problem.  This required the elevator to be placed out of service for six days before it was adjusted, reset and put back into services.

As to the hospital, it failed to assure that the elevator was being properly maintained; failed to report the incident as required by the state; and failed to obtain a report requested from Schindler as to how the malfunction had occurred and what had been done to correct it, according to the plaintiff.

The defendants denied the allegations. Counsel for Schindler maintained that the subject elevator was functioning properly at all times and that the incident was the sole result of the plaintiff's own negligence by attempting to stop the doors of the elevator from closing by sticking his foot out between the hatch of the doors of the elevator.

The defense said that no records of any problem with the functioning of the elevator doors at any relevant time existed, either before or after the incident. During an inspection by a non-party (as part of the required semi-annual inspections mandated by the state Department of Labor and Industry) less than two weeks before the incident, the elevator, its doors and door safety devices were found to be working properly. Further, counsel said the elevator was thoroughly inspected following the incident and was found to be in proper working condition. These theories were supported by Schindler's elevator maintenance expert, who concluded that the incident could not have occurred as the plaintiff described. If it had, the expert said the door system would have experienced at least two independent failures of both the door protection and the door control -- a highly likely event. The most likely event, determined the expert, was that the plaintiff was negligent and failed to enter the elevator properly.

The hospital denied any wrongdoing and maintained that the conduct of its agents, servants and/or employees was appropriate and within the standard of care. Pursuant to a resolution granted by the judge, West Penn was dismissed during trail.

The plaintiff's treating physician testified that Stefanakis was at risk for limb loss which precludes him from pursuing any type of occupational activities that requires standing and walking. Stefanakis sought to recover $472,236 in total labor economic loss.

The defense biomedical engineering expert testified that, based on the physical dimensions and operating parameters of the subject elevator, the inner elevator door could not have closed on Stefanakis' left heel in the manner that he described. Therefore, assuming that Stefanakis' left heel was suddenly constrained by the elevator doors as he was entering the elevator, his body would move forward and downward -- not backward. Moreover, assuming that the elevator doors opened as he was yanking his left foot forward, Stefanakis would have moved forward toward the rear of the elevator, not backward into the lobby. Finally, Stefanakis' injury is consistent with his left foot getting caught in the outer elevator doors before he was able to enter the elevator and then having the doors open as he attempted to free his left foot, thereby causing his body to twist backward and result in him loading his left foot on the ground such that it produced the supination-external rotation mechanism necessary for his left ankle injury, according to the expert.

Following a 5 day trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff a verdict in the amount of $150,000 for personal Injury: pain, suffering, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, scarring and disfigurement. Share this post :
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