Killing Lifts

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A case of ‘neg­li­gence’ and ‘de­fi­ciency in ser­vices’

Search on the In­ter­net for lift (‘el­e­va­tor’ in Amer­i­can us­age) and es­ca­la­tor ac­ci­dents, and you will find hun­dreds of freaky sto­ries that will make you think twice be­fore en­ter­ing into an el­e­va­tor. Around the world, the most com­mon cause of the ma­jor­ity of el­e­va­tor mishaps, es­pe­cially the ones that have caused deaths, is ‘neg­li­gence’ – ei­ther in main­tain­ing and up­keep or while res­cu­ing the stuck in­di­vid­u­als in case of power fail­ure. Who is held ‘re­spon­si­ble’ in th­ese freak cases – in some cases, they are hardly a freak event, though, since a prior over­sight has hap­pened. Dr Prem Lata, Con­sumer Awak­en­ing For­mer Mem­ber, CDRF-Delhi

In var­i­ous le­gal ver­dicts in In­dia as well as in many other coun­tries, it has been es­tab­lished that the re­spon­si­bil­ity for a lift mishap lies with the per­son/en­tity who has been paid to main­tain the same. At times, the fault may also be con­sid­ered to lie with the per­son who does not get the main­te­nance done on time (for what­ever rea­sons, in­clud­ing not pay­ing for the same) and thereby puts the lives of users at risk by not in­form­ing them about the unkempt lift.

Do All Lift Users Qual­ify to Be Con­sumers?

All users of lifts, whether or not they pay for us­ing or main­tain­ing it, are con­sid­ered to be con­sumers of the same. It is be­cause some­one – the build­ing owner, the ten­ant, or the en­tity re­spon­si­ble for the up­keep of the lift – is pay­ing for the ser­vice that you use. For ex­am­ple, if you visit a friend’s home or a mall or an of­fice, you do not nec­es­sar­ily pay for us­ing the lift at those places, but some­body else on your or the vis­i­tor’s be­half is pay­ing some­one for the lift’s up­keep. Hence, the ser­vice of the lift is be­ing ex­tended to you by some­one and you there­fore be­come a con­sumer.

No­table Case 1

In Jan­uary 2014, af­ter a decade of de­lib­er­a­tions, the Na­tional Com­mis­sion awarded a whop­ping com­pen­sa­tion of Rs 5.90 crore to the fam­ily of

Vipin Handa, who had died in a tragic lift accident. In March 2003, Handa had come out of the RAW head­quar­ters on the 11th floor of the CGO com­plex in South Delhi along with 12 other of­fi­cers and got into the lift that stalled mid­way. The staff out­side de­cided to res­cue the of­fi­cers af­ter open­ing the doors and switch­ing off the power sup­ply. How­ever, when Handa was step­ping out, the lift started mov­ing down­wards and crushed his neck be­tween the lift’s roof and the build­ing’s floor, killing him on the spot.

The Na­tional Com­mis­sion’s or­der ex­posed the cal­lous at­ti­tude to safety ex­hib­ited by all those re­spon­si­ble for the up­keep of the lift. The lift man­u­fac­turer Otis, the Com­mis­sion said, was guilty of sheer neg­li­gence and lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism – for in­stalling the lift with­out a volt­age sta­biliser (as a re­sult of which the lift was stalling con­stantly), for fail­ing to ad­vise the ad­min­is­tra­tion about the need for a sta­biliser well in time, and for fail­ing to ser­vice the lift de­spite com­plaints.

The com­mis­sion also held Mil­i­tary Engi­neer­ing Ser­vices (MES) and Re­search and Anal­y­sis Wing (RAW) jointly li­able for fail­ing to en­force the main­te­nance and re­pair con­tract with Otis, and for not en­sur­ing the in­stal­la­tion of a volt­age sta­biliser to en­sure the smooth run­ning of the lift. Say­ing that this ex­posed the sloth and cal­lous­ness of the ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Com­mis­sion asked Otis to pay 70 per cent of the com­pen­sa­tion amount, while MES and RAW would pay 25 per cent and 5 per cent, re­spec­tively.

No­table Case 2

In the case of PG Pai ver­sus Care El­e­va­tors and oth­ers, the Na­tional Com­mis­sion went into the de­tails of each party’s role and re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards the pub­lic at large.

King­fisher Air­lines had leased an of­fice in Mum­bai and the build­ing was be­ing man­aged by Bhag­wati House. The lifts in the build­ing were in­stalled by Otis and main­te­nance of the same was as­signed to Care El­e­va­tors and Engi­neer­ing Com­pany.

The lift in ques­tion went out of or­der in May 2005 and a re­port in this re­gard was lodged with Care El­e­va­tors. Mean­while, Roshan Pai en­tered the lift with­out know­ing about the fault – there was no warn­ing at the lift en­trance. (Trig Se­cu­rity was re­spon­si­ble for putting up all no­tices of warn­ing.) The lift moved abruptly, with­out clos­ing the doors, and crushed and killed Pai with his neck and head stuck in­side and the rest of the body out­side.

It was later es­tab­lished that the me­chan­ics of the se­cu­rity agency had dis­abled the in­built lock­ing sys­tem of the lift – the mal­func­tion­ing of which had caused the accident – which was prop­erly in­stalled by Otis. As per the pro­vi­sions of Clause 18 of In­dian Stan­dards of Elec­tric Trac­tion Lifts, ev­ery lift should be equipped with an elec­tro-me­chanic lock that will pre­vent the lift from mov­ing when its door, shut­ter or gate is open.

Roshan Pai’s fa­ther filed a case against all the four

re­spon­dents and claimed com­pen­sa­tion for the men­tal agony he had un­der­gone due to the death of his young son. He al­leged that King­fisher Air­lines, the owner of Bhag­wati House, Otis El­e­va­tor Com­pany (who in­stalled the lift), and Care El­e­va­tors (re­spon­si­ble for up­keep of the lift) were li­able to com­pen­sate him.

In this con­text, the Com­mis­sion es­tab­lished that like Otis, which had com­plied with the rules, King­fisher too had no role as it only had to pay for up­keep of the lift—like all other oc­cu­pants of the build­ing—and it was do­ing the same.

On the other hand, the op­er­at­ing agency and the se­cu­rity agency were found to be at fault and li­able to face ac­tion for de­fi­ciency in ser­vices. The se­cu­rity agency was found guilty on two counts. Firstly, their se­cu­rity per­son had dis­abled the elec­tro-me­chanic sys­tem lead­ing to the accident, and se­condly, it was their duty to ei­ther put up a warn­ing out­side the lift or de­ploy a guard to stop peo­ple from us­ing the lift.

Al­though it was es­tab­lished that the com­plainant, the fa­ther of de­ceased Ro­han Pai, had not paid for the ser­vices of main­te­nance of the lift, he was still el­i­gi­ble for com­pen­sa­tion as some­one was pay­ing for the ser­vices that his son was avail­ing of. Pro­vid­ing lift in a multi-storeyed build­ing amounts to pro­vid­ing ser­vices to visi­tors and employees in the build­ing. In this par­tic­u­lar case, the de­ceased was vis­it­ing King­fisher’s of­fice in the build­ing, es­tab­lish­ing that he had per­mis­sion from a per­son who paid for the ser­vices.

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