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Family of Ad Exec Killed by Malfunctioning Elevator Sues Repair Firm

By James Fanelli | January 29, 2013 7:18am

MIDTOWN EAST — The family of an advertising exec fatally crushed in a horrifying elevator accident is suing the firm that was repairing the lift, accusing it of recklessly skirting safety rules.

Suzanne Hart's family claims in a lawsuit filed Jan. 22 that Transel Elevator and Electric and its employees caused her death in a midtown office building by putting an elevator back into service without reenabling a safety device.

A director at ad firm Young & Rubicam, Hart, 41, was fatally crushed on Dec. 14, 2011, while heading to her office.  The elevator she tried to board rose with its doors open, dragging her upward until she got stuck between the first and second floors.

The lawsuit faults the Transel repair crew for a slew of errors, including:

• Failing to post signs that they were repairing the elevator.

• Not contacting the city Department of Buildings to schedule a mandatory inspection before putting the elevator back into service.

• Leaving a "jumper" wire in the elevator that was used to bypass the safety circuit.

• Failing to put up caution tape inside the elevators.

• Operating the elevator without a certificate of compliance.

• Not obtaining a work permit for reduced travel on the elevators.

A probe by the DOB and the city's Department of Investigation found in February 2012 that Transel mechanic Michael Hill had disabled a safety device that prevents the elevator from moving while its doors are open. Hill has said that he turned the mechanism back on before Hart was killed.

The DOB also suspended the license of Transel co-owner John Fichera for putting the elevator back into service without getting the city agency's approval. Transel was also slapped with 23 violations.

After the release of the city's findings, Transel fired Hill and four other repairmen.

The lawsuit also names Fichera, Hill and the four Transel employees as defendants. The building's property manager at the time, Cushman & Wakefield, is also named in the lawsuit.

Hart's father, Alex Hart, filed the lawsuit in Brooklyn, where she lived. He doesn't specify the amount in damages that he seeks.

Transel did not return a call for comment. Hill could not be reached for comment. Isabelle Kirshner, Hill's lawyer during the investigation, said she no longer represents him.

Two other people were in the elevator when Hart was killed. In January 2012, one of the passengers filed a lawsuit against Transel, claiming she was too scared to step foot in an elevator since witnessing the grisly death.