05.16.2019

SACS Appellate Group Wins Major Victory: Unanimous Reversal of Summary Judgment Against Client in 4-Story Elevator Fall Involving 15 Injured Workers

This appeal to the Appellate Division, First Department, arose in a consolidated action arising from an elevator accident in a large Manhattan building owned by our client, CF620, while build-out construction was underway on the fourth through sixth floors. A group of approximately fifteen construction workers were traveling in a freight elevator to the floors under construction when the elevator dropped four floors to the buffers in the building’s basement, causing injuries to the workers. The elevator in question was maintained by two established elevator maintenance and repair contractors, Schindler and Robinson, who had made repairs and tested the elevator in question as recently as one week prior to the accident. Despite that the injured plaintiffs submitted affidavits from elevator experts and proffered violations from the Department of Buildings that specifically pointed to the negligence of Schindler and Robinson in their maintenance and repairs as the cause of the accident, the Supreme Court granted the elevator contractors' motions for summary judgment, and instead surprisingly granted summary judgment against the building owner CF620. In other words, in this elevator accident litigation, the court dismissed all claims against the two elevator contractors hired to service, repair and maintain the elevator that malfunctioned, but the building owner who hired and relied upon these experts was found liable as a matter of law.

During the pendency of our appeal from the summary judgment order, CF620 reached settlements in all seven actions with all fifteen injured plaintiffs (plus seven derivative claims) in order to cap its risk. This left CF620 in the position of maintaining only a claim for common law indemnification as against the elevator contractors to recover all of its settlement outlays and attorneys' fees and costs in the seven actions. In order to do so, CF620 had to prevail on appeal by convincing the First Department to: (1) reverse the grant of summary judgment in favor of the elevator defendants; and (2) reverse the grant of summary judgment on liability against CF620.

In its Decision and Order dated May 16, 2019, the First Department did both in unanimously reversing the Supreme Court’s order and reinstating all claims against Schindler and Robinson. Accordingly, our client, CF620 may now pursue common law indemnification against the parties responsible for the accident. Suffice it to say, with settlements with fifteen plaintiffs and seven derivative claims in seven consolidated actions at play, this involves very considerable sums and constitutes a major victory on behalf of our client!

This was a team effort in every sense of the word, and the victory belongs to a lot of great people. Kudos to Tim Capowski, Gerard Rath and Courtney Kane on the briefs; Tim on the oral argument; Tim, Jonathan Shaub and Jack Watkins on the oppositions to Schindler and Robinson's motion to dismiss the appeal; and special thanks to our friends at Lewis Brisbois (defense counsel Alan Kaminsky and his team of John Doody, Sana Suhail, Rob Haynes and Jasen Abrahamsen) for their great attitude, tireless work, support and teamwork. We love working with them!

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