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Otis Elevator Co. v. Lepore

Decided: June 7, 1962.

OTIS ELEVATOR COMPANY
v.
LEPORE, INFANT, ETC.



Appeal from the Baltimore City Court; Byrnes, J.

Brune, C. J., and Prescott, Horney, Marbury and Sybert, JJ. Prescott, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.

Prescott

This is a suit involving personal injuries sustained by "Ricky" LePore, a 3 1/2 year old boy, when the front half of his left foot was amputated by an escalator as he was descending from the third to the second floor of a department store in Baltimore City. Suit was brought against both the store and the Otis Elevator Company, which was under contract to

inspect, maintain and service the escalator. The case was tried before Judge Byrnes and a jury, and resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff in the amount of $70,000. Otis, alone, has appealed.

The sole question presented is whether the evidence was legally sufficient to show negligence on the part of the appellant, which was a proximate cause of the accident.

Although the judgment is a substantial one, the facts are comparatively simple. Evidence was offered to the following effect. On July 30, 1958, Ricky was riding with his parents down the escalator as stated above. His mother got on first, carrying her baby, then about two months old. Ricky got on the next step behind her, and his father got on the step immediately behind Ricky, and kept his left arm on Ricky's shoulder. Ricky, wearing low-cut tennis shoes, was standing near the rail to his left as he was descending, and his left hand was on the hand rail.

As he neared the bottom of the escalator, he screamed and was turned further to his left than he had been facing. The father tossed away a package he was carrying and went around Ricky's right side to a place below the boy. The father grasped him under the arms from below and to the side but was unable to lift the child, whose foot was caught in some unknown manner. When the boy reached the second floor landing he was suddenly released, and his father was able to lift him from the escalator, and "the first thing I pulled him up I noticed part of his foot was missing, so I just picked him up and put my hand under it, the missing part." The entire front half of the foot forward of the instep had been amputated.

The escalator had been installed in 1938. In 1953, Otis contracted with the department store to furnish "Otis Maintenance" on the escalators in the store. Under the contract, Otis agreed to "maintain the entire escalator equipment," to "keep this equipment properly adjusted" and to "use all reasonable care to maintain the escalators in proper operating condition." Otis does not deny that it was responsible for the maintenance, adjustment, inspection, etc., of all the parts of the escalators as far as they are adjustable.

The particular escalator here involved is a reversible one with a 15 foot 1/2 inch rise. It consists of steps mounted on wheels which ride a track. Each step consists of two parts: (1) a metal riser of relatively thin gauge which is normally slightly convex or bulging outwards toward a person viewing the riser from the bottom of the escalator, and (2) a step surface consisting of a steel or aluminum tread with grooves and ridges (or "teeth") giving a corrugated effect.

On both sides of the steps are large stationary structures called rails. At the lower part of this structure, extending throughout the rise of the escalator, is a metal panel which extends a short distance above each step. This panel is known as the side skirt or side skirt panel. Immediately above this panel is the second section of the rail known as the balustrade, and on the top of the balustrade is a moving rubber handrail which descends along with the passenger on the stairs.

As the steps of the escalator approach the bottom, their height decreases until the steps finally level off at the landing. At the base of the steps on the landing are two metal plates. The first is called the "comb plate," which is removable with a gridlike appearance about flush with the end of the rail. It is called a "comb plate" because of the teeth at the end of the plate at the point where the steps disappear. These teeth fit into the grooves of the treads of the steps, and "comb" out cigarette butts, trash, and similar matter ...


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