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Repair firm owner cited in elevator death could lose license

The first formal reports on the investigations into the death-by-elevator accident last month that claimed the life of a Madison Avenue advertising executive are out. They point a finger of blame directly at elevator maintenance workers and the company they were employed by as the cause. It's a claim the company says it will fight.

While the incident in question didn't happen in Maryland, the issue of liability for personal injury and wrongful death it addresses is one that anyone who rides an elevator is likely to be sensitive to. The reports were issued earlier this week by New York's Department of Buildings and Department of Investigations.

Suzanne Hart was crushed to death when the elevator she was hopping onto began to rise before she was completely on board. She became caught between the floor of the lift and its shaft.

According to the investigation reports, work crews had just conducted some maintenance work on the elevator and left minutes before the incident occurred. Officials say those workers and their supervisors did three things glaringly wrong. They never posted appropriate warnings around the elevator while the work was under way, as required by law. They didn't call the city for an inspection, as required by law. And, they failed to re-engage a safety circuit they had overridden in the process of doing the work.

The company, while calling the accident a tragedy, disputes the findings. The mechanic who connected the override wire on the circuit insisted during questioning by investigators that he had restored the circuit to proper functioning.

As a result of the official findings, the Department of Buildings has suspended the license of one of the owners of Transel and is seeking to have it revoked. The action blocks the company from being able to deliver its elevator upgrade, installation and inspection services.

Officials say Transel also faces possible fines totaling $117,000 for 23 code violations. The building's owner also has been cited for 11 violations.

Source: The New York Times, "City Cites Maintenance Mistakes in Fatal Elevator Accident," Cara Buckley, Feb. 27, 2012

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