Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Tenant’s death in fall prompts owner negligence dispute

Who is responsible for an employee, worker or visitor's injuries on personal or business property in Allegheny County? The simple answer would be the property owner, but premises liability laws are anything but simple, especially when responsibility for a property is shared by multiple people or companies.

The sudden death of a 61-year-old musician during a fall down an elevator shaft is someone's fault, but reports only speculate on who can or will be blamed. The victim was a new tenant in a building that was not supposed to be occupied, owned by a corporation in dispute with a company shareholder.

The structure, which served as the shareholder's residence, housed other tenants when the man died. The corporate owner was working to evict the tenants and resolve long-standing problems with the shareholder, when the accident took place.

The deteriorating building had been partially condemned in 2010, but the owner was having trouble getting inside to investigate. Last winter, the building's nearly century-old elevator was disabled and padlocked by inspectors, apparently not for long.

Court arguments delayed action, tenants remained in place and the shareholder didn't budge. The elevator evidently was used, despite its official closure. Some interviewed parties said the elevator was closed temporarily or used on a limited basis, while others claimed they never saw it out of service.

The tenant died in August, after plunging into the elevator shaft in the dark. An inspection by fire crews after the fatality uncovered a dozen building code violations. Investigators noticed electricity had been restored to the unsafe elevator; the padlock was gone.

The old building changed hands after the tenant's death. All tenants are in the process of being evicted.

Finger-pointing is not uncommon among defendants in Pennsylvania liability cases. Negligent defendants fail to provide reasonable protection from harm for property visitors and are obliged to compensate plaintiffs for injury or death-related damages.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Inspections, business dispute preceded fatal fall in downtown elevator" Nicholas J.C. Pistor, Dec. 15, 2013

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Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.
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Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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