Michael Gaudio had a rough ride on an escalator at the train station in Stamford, Connecticut. According to a recent trial court decision, Mr. Gaudio claimed he tripped and fell on September 12, 2008, because the escalator handrails were out of sync with the treads.
Gaudio sued to recover for his injuries but one of the defendants, Schindler Elevator Corporation, asked the court to be excused from liability, stating it had no responsibility to Gaudio.
Schindler allegedly had a contract with the property manager to inspect the escalator. Gaudio argued that Schindler should have noticed the defect and informed the property manager. But the alleged Schindler contract was with the manager, and Schindler said it had no duty protect third parties from injury.
This is a controversial issue in the law. Traditionally, a contracting party, such as Schindler, had no duty to third parties, such as Gaudio, when performing the contract. However, some courts take a different view, holding that a contractor must take steps to prevent injury to third parties.
Here the court held that Schindler, by agreeing to inspect escalators, should have foreseen that if it failed to properly carry out the contract, the result could be injuries such as Gaudio’s.
Liability in such cases can be huge. Businesses should review such potential risks with their insurance agents and with counsel. In addition to insurance, counsel may be able to negotiate appropriate allocation of risk and indemnities by the contracting parties.
This decision determined only that Schindler owed a duty to Gaudio and allowed Gaudio to proceed with his claim against Schindler. It did not decide whether Schindler breached that duty. That would be determined in further court proceedings.
Legal brief. The case discussed is Gaudio v. Fusco Management Co. et al., 52 Conn. L. Rptr. 584 (Sept. 13, 2011). Motion for summary judgment asserting, inter alia that defendant had no duty to plaintiff to inspect escalator. Held, denied. Nature of contractual undertaking imposed on defendant duty to perform so as not to injure third parties.