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Suzanne Hart's Death Prompts Elevator Safety Legislation

By Jill Colvin | April 2, 2012 8:32pm
The memorial card handed out at a service for Young & Rubicam executive Suzanne Hart, who was killed in an elevator accident on December 14, 2011.
The memorial card handed out at a service for Young & Rubicam executive Suzanne Hart, who was killed in an elevator accident on December 14, 2011.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MANHATTAN — The City Council is hoping that two new elevator safety bills — requiring certification for mechanics and calling for extra safety mechanisms — will help prevent future tragedies like the death last year of advertising executive Suzanne Hart.

Hart, 41, was killed last December when the elevator she was entering at her Madison Avenue building shot up upward unexpectedly, with the doors still open, crushing her between floors.

A city-led investigation into the death found that mechanics working on the elevator just hours before the incident failed to remove a device that disengaged a safety mechanism, allowing the elevator to move even when its doors were open.

The new legislation, announced Monday, would force elevator repair technicians to be licensed and would require that they pass a mechanics examination administered by a nationally-or state-approved program.

Today New York city and state have no licensing system in place.

“Human error is not an excuse for loss of life,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has scheduled a hearing on the proposed bills on April 16th.

“If rigorous training requirements and better oversight of elevator maintenance workers will protect the City’s elevator riders, the Council will swiftly pass our Safe Elevator legislation to prevent tragedies like this from happening again,” she said.

A second bill would require elevators in residential and mixed-use buildings to be equipped with an extra safety mechanism that would keep cars from hitting the ceiling if elevators ever suddenly accelerate.

The announcement comes a week after an elevator mechanic in Midtown was electrocuted while conducting maintenance work and another elevator plunged six stories, injuring a 17-year-old passenger in the Bronx.

“If plumbers and electricians are required to be licensed to work in New York, it stands to reason that elevator workers should be licensed as well,” Bronx City Councilman James Vacca said in a statement.

“We must ensure that only experienced, qualified professionals are repairing these essential features of urban life," he said.

Elevator expert Patrick Carrajat, who has been working in the business for more than five decades, said the new licensing requirements are long overdue.

“We have to have licensed elevator mechanics. We have to have competency,” he said, noting that there is currently no requirement for formal training or experience.

But while he said the second bill was a good start, he said it should also apply to commercial buildings, like the one where Hart was killed, and should require the installation of devices that prevent elevators from moving when their doors are still ajar.

“We want to prevent this type of accident from ever happening again," he said.