Products Liability Law Daily Wrap Up, TOP STORY—HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS—Residential elevator recalls, warnings announced by CPSC, (Jan 11, 2022)

By Susan Lasser, J.D.

One elevator company refused to join a joint recall action with three other elevator companies in the agency’s campaign to address the hazard of child entrapment in residential elevators.

In its continuing effort to end the deadly hazards caused by residential elevators, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has is ...

By Susan Lasser, J.D.

One elevator company refused to join a joint recall action with three other elevator companies in the agency’s campaign to address the hazard of child entrapment in residential elevators.

In its continuing effort to end the deadly hazards caused by residential elevators, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued new recalls and a warning relating to four companies’ residential elevators. In addition, the Commission has provided safety tips for consumers who have an elevator in their home or who are staying in a vacation rental with an elevator (CPSC News Releases, Nos. 22-048, 22-049, and 22-050; January 11, 2022).

In three releases by the agency, CPSC explained that young children can become entrapped in the space or gap between the exterior landing (or hoistway) door and the interior elevator car door or gate. An entrapped child can suffer serious injuries or death when the elevator is called to another floor. Three children were entrapped in this way during the summer of 2021, with one seven-year-old boy sustaining fatal injuries in an elevator at a vacation rental home in North Carolina. In some incidents, children have experienced multiple skull fractures, fractured vertebrae, traumatic asphyxia, and other horrific and lifelong injuries, according to CPSC.

Three voluntary recalls. Three elevator manufacturers-Bella Elevator, LLC; Inclinator Company of America; and Savaria Corporation-have worked with CPSC to announce three separate voluntary recalls of about 69,000 residential elevators [see “Residential elevators recalled by Bella over risk of serious injury or death to children”; “Child entrapment hazard prompts Inclinator to recall over 39K residential elevators”; and “Savaria recalls residential elevators due to child entrapment hazard” in today’s Products Liability Law Daily]. The manufacturers in each of these recalls are providing free safety devices to address the hazardous gap spaces between the home elevator doors. In addition, the Commission is warning consumers to stop using elevators manufactured by a fourth company, Waupaca Elevator Company, Inc., after the company would not cooperate with a recall. CPSC stated that it has been issuing warnings about the hazard posed by residential elevators since 2019, and the three companies recalling their residential elevators have agreed to contact their customers and fix all elevators that have a hazardous gap as part of a recall.

In cooperation with CPSC, Bella, Inclinator and Savaria have agreed that all current manufacturing and distribution of future residential elevators will comply with applicable voluntary safety standards to eliminate the young child entrapment hazard. CPSC previously warned consumers about residential elevators in July 2021 [see Products Liability Law Daily’s July 23, 2021 analysis]. The recent recall and warning actions follow a December 2020 recall of other residential elevators for the same hazard [see Products Liability Law Daily’s December 17, 2020 analysis], as well as CPSC’s filing of a lawsuit against thyssenkrupp Access Corp. in July 2021 when the company refused to initiate a recall [see Products Liability Law Daily’s July 19, 2021 analysis]. The Commission continues to investigate the safety of residential elevators and advises consumers to report any safety incident involving residential elevators at www.SaferProducts.gov.

Waupaca residential elevator incident and CPSC’s current warning. CPSC said that it is aware of one incident from 2011 that involved a Waupaca residential elevator. In that incident, a 4-year-old child became trapped between the hoistway door and the Waupaca model 014 elevator car door. The child was found dangling in the elevator shaft, upside down, with his foot lodged between the elevator car and the elevator shaft on the third floor. As a result of the accident, the child suffered physical scarring and permanent vision loss. CPSC asked that Waupaca join the current recall, but the company declined.

Consequently, CPSC is warning consumers about the deadly hazards posed by Waupaca’s residential elevators. The Waupaca elevators at issue were manufactured and distributed beginning in 1979 through to the present, and the models affected include model numbers 008, 010, 014, 015, 016, 018, 021, 022, 110, 114, 115, 116, 118, and 210. The elevators sold for between $18,000 and $30,000.

CPSC noted that Waupaca, in cooperation with CPSC, previously recalled Waupaca residential elevators in October 2018 and issued a warning in July 2021 for a hazard associated with the elevators falling unexpectedly, including one resulting in a death. Since October 2018, Waupaca has been working with its dealers to install overspeed safety devices on recalled elevators.

As with the other companies’ recalled elevators, CPSC warns that children can become entrapped in residential elevator gaps larger than four inches between the hoistway door and the interior elevator car door or gate, and can die or suffer serious injuries when the elevator moves to another floor. Because of the broad problem relating to residential elevators generally, consumers are cautioned that they should have a safety device, such as a space guard, installed to eliminate any hazardous gaps.

CPSC urges homeowners with Waupaca residential elevators to lock the elevator or lock all exterior landing/hoistway doors to the elevator, to prevent children from accessing the elevator until a local elevator service company or qualified inspector can examine the elevator to ensure that the space between the doors complies with the requirements of ASME A17.3-2017, Safety Code for Existing Elevators and Escalators. Consumers may visit https://naesai.org/search to find a qualified inspector in their area.

CPSC further said that it must provide with its news release any information it has received by Waupaca, pursuant to a related provision under the Consumer Product Safety Act. As such, the Commission noted that Waupaca has stated to CPSC that it does not have the financial resources required to satisfy a recall to address elevator gaps; that Waupaca’s financial situation has resulted in the company obtaining a court order appointing a receivership over its assets and operations; and that in the 2011 incident, the Waupaca elevator was not installed pursuant to the applicable code. Waupaca further has stated that it joins the Commission in urging owners of Waupaca elevators to make arrangements for the inspection and repair of residential elevators to address elevator gaps and to install overspeed braking devices.

Consumer guidance and tips. CPSC cautions that consumers should keep unsupervised young children away from the recalled residential elevators and contact the manufacturers for instructions on how to measure for space guards to correct any hazardous gap. Space guards will be provided free of charge, and assistance with space guard installation will be provided on request.

CPSC has provided the following tips for consumers to check to ensure the safety of their residential elevator:

  • Consumers should make sure that the gap between doors is no more than four inches deep. If uncertain of the measurement or otherwise concerned about the safety of the elevator, consumers should lock the elevator itself in an unusable position or lock all access doors to the elevator.

  • Have a qualified elevator inspector examine the home elevator for the dangerous gap and other potential safety hazards, inspecting to the latest ASME A17.3-2017, Safety Code for Existing Elevators and Escalators.

  • Dangerous gaps can be made safer by placing space guards on the back of the hoistway door or installing an electronic monitoring device that deactivates the elevator when a child is detected in the gap.

  • Consumers are advised to contact the elevator manufacturer or an elevator installer to obtain these critical safety devices to address this hidden hazard. Elevator installers should never allow any gap greater than four inches deep to exist in an elevator entryway.

  • Check www.CPSC.gov/recalls to see if the elevator has been recalled. If it has been recalled, call the recalling firm immediately to arrange for the fix.

CPSC has provided a public service announcement video on residential elevator safety for a simple guide to identifying dangerous elevators. The link may be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fTuQy-cKo8.

Companies: Bella Elevator, LLC; Inclinator Company of America; Savaria Corp.; Waupaca Elevator Company, Inc.

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