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Jones v. The Medical Center of Central Georgia, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

June 21, 2017


          MCFADDEN, P. J., BRANCH and BETHEL, JJ.

          McFadden, Presiding Judge.

         John Jones was injured while he was a passenger in an elevator at the Medical Center of Central Georgia, Inc. Jones sued the Medical Center and its elevator maintenance contractor, ThyssenKrupp Elevator Corporation, for his injuries. The trial court granted the Medical Center's motion for summary judgment and Jones filed this appeal.

         Jones argues that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment because the material facts are disputed. But Jones has not shown that the Medical Center had superior knowledge of any defect. Jones argues that the Medical Center is vicariously liable for any negligence on the part of ThyssenKrupp, but he has not pointed to evidence of any such negligence. Finally, Jones argues that the trial court should have applied the rebuttable presumption of a defect that arises for violations of OCGA § 8-2-106, which requires reports of elevator accidents, but he has not shown trial court error. So we affirm.

         1. Facts.

         A trial court properly grants summary judgment when

there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, and we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. A defendant seeking summary judgment need only show an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the plaintiff's case to prevail.

Brady v. Elevator Specialists, 287 Ga.App. 304 (653 S.E.2d 59) (2007) (citations and punctuation omitted).

         So viewed, the evidence shows that Jones went to the Medical Center to pick up his wife and his daughter, who had had surgery the day before. His daughter was in a room on the seventh floor. Jones entered the Medical Center and walked to the main bank of elevators. He and another man entered elevator number three. Jones pushed the button for the seventh floor and the other man pushed the button for the eighth floor. The elevator rose to the third or fourth floor then fell downward, crashing into something solid. Jones was able to grab a handrail, which kept him from falling to the floor of the elevator.

         The other passenger tried to open the door and then pressed the emergency button. The person who came to their assistance told them from outside the elevator that the car was one-and-a-half feet below floor level and that he needed to get someone to help him move it. About 20 minutes later, Jones felt more jolting. People outside the elevator said they could not open the doors and they needed to get more help. Five minutes later, the doors opened; the elevator was on the ninth floor and the car was level with the floor. Jones injured his feet, legs, knees, and neck in the incident.

         Mark Singletary, the assistant director of facilities management at the Medical Center, called and emailed the state Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner to report the incident. On July 31, 2013, technicians with ThyssenKrupp, the Medical Center's elevator maintenance contractor, met the state inspectors at the Medical Center to investigate the cause of the incident. The state inspectors and ThyssenKrupp technicians tried to recreate the incident conditions for three and a half hours on July 31. The elevator ran normally the entire time. Because they were unable to find anything wrong with the elevator and could not recreate the conditions of malfunction, the inspectors concluded that the cause of the incident was unknown. After the inspection on July 31, 2013, the state inspectors returned the elevator to service.

         The Medical Center, which owns the elevator, purchased the highest level of service plan available from ThyssenKrupp. According to the maintenance agreement, ThyssenKrupp's maintenance program "meets or exceeds any and all requirements of ASME A 17.1-2007 Code, Section 8.6" and its testing program complies with the testing requirements of the American National Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators, ANSI A 17.1, or the governing authority's requirements, if different.

         In accordance with the maintenance agreement, ThyssenKrupp performed five-year, annual, and monthly safety tests and regular preventative maintenance on the Medical Center's elevators, including examination, lubrication, and adjustment of the car and hoistway door operating devices and door protection equipment. A ThyssenKrupp mechanic is physically present at the hospital 40 hours per week.

         The Medical Center performs its own monthly inspections of its elevators. These inspections involve an experienced mechanic riding every elevator at the Medical Center and stopping at every floor to check for ...

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