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Officer Paralyzed in Courthouse Elevator Crash Awarded Settlement

— January 3, 2019

A faulty elevator repair job caused the equipment to malfunction and paralyzed an officer. Settlement reached.

Paul Owens, a former sergeant in the Philadelphia sheriff’s office, was inside an employee elevator at the Criminal Justice Center at 13th and Filbert Streets when the elevator car shot through the 15th-floor ceiling of the 17-story building on Aug. 4, 2016, crashing into an equipment room.  He was taken to Hahnemann University Hospital in critical condition after the crash with serious head, rib, vertebrae, and chest injuries.  Owens and his wife, Heather, subsequently filed a lawsuit in January 2017, and the couple is set to receive $20.5 million settlement.

“I grabbed the railing, and I just remember holding on,” Owens said previously in an interview. “After that, I don’t remember anything until I woke up in the hospital.”

According to Owens’ attorney, Michael V. Tinari, a faulty elevator repair job several years earlier caused it to malfunction.  “They’re satisfied that the matter’s over, and happy with the amount of money, because it will take care of Paul’s future medical costs and living needs,” Tinari said, adding that Owens, 51, is unable to walk, but is “stoic and hopeful.”  He and his wife have had their home completely renovated to be ADA-compliant.

Officer Paralyzed in Courthouse Elevator Crash Awarded Settlement
Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Named as defendants are the Philadelphia Municipal Authority, U.S. Facilities Inc., Thyssenkrupp Elevator Corp., and Schindler Elevator Corp.  Amended complaints filed in 2018 added as defendants Otis Elevator Co. of Farmington, Conn., and Amtech Elevator Services, an Otis subsidiary.  Tinari represented the plaintiffs along with attorney Christopher Fleming.

“Defendants were jointly responsible for the proper maintenance, repair, inspection and upkeep of the [building], including the elevators,” the lawsuit stated, adding that the incident was “caused by and due solely to the negligence, carelessness, and reckless behavior” of the defendants.

Tinari said that several years before the crash, workers improperly installed bolts during a repair of a ring gear.  This led to seven of the bolts breaking over time, and when the last remaining bolt broke, it “allowed for the rapid ascension of the elevator car which Paul was in,” he said. “We allege that was the cause of the crash.  The defendants have denied this.

Ted Schaer and Gregory Mallon, attorneys for U.S. Facilities, said the company’s “contribution to the settlement was minimal as all elevator maintenance and repair work was subcontracted to certified elevator contractors per City of Philadelphia requirements.  U.S. Facilities continues to deny any claim related to this unfortunate incident.”

A Schindler spokesperson said the firm was pleased to see the matter resolved.  “Schindler was neither the elevator service provider when the subject event occurred, nor was its equipment involved,” a statement read. “Schindler continues to deny any claim asserted against it in the suit but contributed a very minor amount to the overall settlement in the interest of avoiding further litigation expense and obtaining finality.”

Tinari said after filing the lawsuit, the couple had stated they would like rope grippers to be installed on the elevators at the Criminal Justice Center.  The elevators or elevator parts in the building will also be replaced.

In a July 2017 whistle-blower lawsuit filed against U.S. Facilities, Duilio “Lou” Angelini, a former U.S. Facilities manager assigned to the Criminal Justice Center, contends he warned company officials of lax maintenance and dummied-up inspection reports for the courthouse elevators.  The lawsuit, which has since been moved to U.S. District Court, is pending trial.


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