Consumer safety agency sues company over elevators blamed for crushing children

Consumer safety agency sues company over elevators blamed for crushing children
© Getty Images

The federal agency responsible for promoting consumer product safety has filed a lawsuit against a company that previously manufactured residential elevators, which have been tied to at least eight deaths and two serious injuries of children over the past four decades. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said in a press release Wednesday that it had voted 3-1 to take legal action in order to force ThyssenKrupp Access to conduct safety inspections of its elevators in customers’ homes and offer free repairs, among other actions. 

The commission specifically cited a series of reported instances in which children were crushed due to a narrow gap between the two doors of some residential elevators. Small children reportedly could fit through the gap, slip and fall under a moving car. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The Washington Post reported on a series of accidents associated with the at-home elevators, including one in 2010 that left a 3-year-old permanently disabled. 

The Post reported that little action had previously been taken by regulators, despite the fact that members of the elevator industry had allegedly been aware of the safety issue for more than 70 years. 

The Post noted that since 1981, at least 10 children have been killed or seriously injured in elevator entrapment incidents, though some safety experts said that the number of victims is much higher. 

Acting CPSC Chairman Robert Adler said in a statement Wednesday, “These injuries and deaths are ghastly.” 

“The gaps in residential elevators are truly a hidden hazard for homeowners, and for anyone who is visiting or renting a home with an elevator," he added. 

The lawsuit, in addition to conducting inspections and repairs, also requires ThyssenKrupp Access, part of German conglomerate ThyssenKrupp, to notify customers of the defects in installation materials and the design believed to be responsible for the accidents. 

The CPSC in its announcement also urged customers “to disable or block children’s access to the thyssenkrupp residential elevators to prevent a potential deadly incident.” 

A ThyssenKrupp spokesperson told the Post that it was “disappointed” by the lawsuit, adding that the company had left the home elevator industry in 2012 and that it has already previously worked to notify people of “this installation hazard.”

A senior CPSC official who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss internal deliberations said that regulators decided to move ahead with the lawsuit after backing off of a similar recall legal action in 2019. 

Regulators moved off legal action in 2019 after discovering that ThyssenKrupp had been inspecting and fixing some of the home elevators without notifying consumer regulators. 

In a statement shared with The Hill, ThyssenKrupp argued that the lawsuit "puts semantics ahead of real attempts to make consumers safer while conveniently ignoring the facts that the CPSC has been fully aware of thyssenkrupp Access Corp.’s communication outreach efforts for years." 

ThyssenKrupp also claimed that the agency "has chosen to not lend its support to either the current or prior home elevator safety program."

"Thyssenkrupp Access Corp. is already providing free inspections, free hardware, and free installations to affected homeowners to address a hazard that CPSC knows is the result of improper third-party installations of safe, compliant elevators," the company added. 

The statement went on to say, "For years, thyssenkrupp Access Corp. has urged... owners of homes where any thyssenkrupp Access Corp. elevator was installed to take immediate action to prevent children from using or accessing the elevator until the home has been checked to see if there is an excessive gap space and space guards installed to reduce that gap space."

In total, ThyssenKrupp Access manufactured and distributed at least 16,800 residential elevators through both the company and under other various brand names through 2012, according to the CPSC.

Updated at 4:07 p.m.