Fatal Elevator Accident Kills Guard, Inmate

Authorities are investigating a fall down an elevator shaft at a Pennsylvania correctional facility that proved fatal for both a correctional officer and an inmate.


According to The New York Times, the pair were engaged in a scuffle following a verbal argument over the fact the inmate was being made to take the stairs, rather than the elevator, after playing basketball. They crashed through an elevator door and fell some five stories down the elevator shaft. Another corrections officer who was assisting the first just narrowly avoided plunging 70 feet down the shaft as well.

The elevator was reportedly on its way up from the first floor at the time of the accident. The 27-year-old inmate’s death was ruled accidental, but the 25-year-old guard’s death was ruled a homicide. 

Although the circumstances that led to the fatal fall are somewhat unusual, our personal injury lawyers know the incident highlights the possible risks and dangers of elevator injuries.

In another recent case in Toledo, Ohio, a teen boy was killed after falling down an elevator shaft of an abandoned apartment building. Cleveland.com reports the 16-year-old was “exploring” the abandoned apartment with friends when he fell from either the third or fifth floor. The teens had reportedly entered the building through a window and were trying to get to the roof when the teen fell. Although the building had been vacant since 2006, the city inspector had filed a notice to the owner that the building either needs to be rehabbed or demolished.

According to ConsumerWatch.com, elevators make some 18 billion passenger trips every single year. Of those, there are about 27 deaths annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means the fatality rate is extremely low. The injury rate is higher (with children and seniors the most likely to be hurt) and about 65 percent involving tripping or being pushed while walking.

Each case is going to be different, which is why your personal injury lawyer will need to carefully look at what is at stake and what possible elements should be considered.

For example, in the first case, survivors of the corrections officer may have the ability to seek damages from one of several avenues, including:

  • Workers’ compensation death benefits;
  • Liability against the estate of the inmate;
  • Product liability claim against the elevator/ door manufacturer.

Because he was working at the time of the incident, he won’t be able to sue his employer for failure to properly maintain the facility or any other negligence.

In the case of the teen who fell down the shaft, matters may be a bit more complicated. Although property owners are responsible for ensuring their sites are reasonably safe for those who enter, the extent of that duty really depends on the role of the visitor. In this case, based on information provided, it seems the teens were trespassing.

The duty owed to trespassers is very low; essentially, property owners are not allowed to intentionally harm them. There may be an exception in this case if plaintiffs could show the attractive nuisance doctrine applies, though that may be difficult given the fact that this was an older teen.

Alternatively, his survivors may argue the building owner was negligent for failing to secure the property per the city’s order within an allotted time prior to the accident.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Officials rule Luzerne County prison guard’s death a homicide, July 22, 2016, By Jennifer Learn-Andes, Times Leader

More Blog Entries:

North Carolina State Fair Ride Injury Results in Jail, Probation, Settlement, June 17, 2016, North Carolina Injury Lawyer Blog

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