Jury says 'no' to woman's hand-in-elevator-door complaint

Steve Gonzalez Dec. 13, 2007, 11:45pm

Barely an hour into deliberations, a Madison County jury on Wednesday cleared Kone Elevators of any negligence or wrongdoing after an eight-day trial in Erma Smith's personal injury suit.

Madison County Circuit Judge David Hylla presided over the trial.

Smith filed the suit against Kone and Saint Anthony's Hospital alleging she injured herself when she used her hand to stop an elevator door from closing.

The incident took place June 9, 2005, at the Alton hospital.

Smith claimed Kone breached its duty by failing to have an adequate safe sensor system in the opening to prevent the doors closing on a passenger.

She also claimed the elevator company failed to warn of the hazards of the door, failed to recommend safety devices to the hospital and failed to maintain the elevator.

Represented by Robert Wilson of Granite City, Smith said her hand injuries were permanent and progressive, caused disability, medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

Wilson asked the jury to award Smith $600,000 in damages.

Represented by Michael Dahlen of Carbondale, Kone argued that any injury Smith suffered was caused by her comparative fault in attempting to stop closure of the elevator doors by inserting her hand between two doors that were closing.

Kone also argued that Smith looked away from the elevator door as it was closing.

Testifying on behalf of Kone, David Jasper, an elevator mechanic from Kone's St. Louis office, gave general testimony about the maintenance performed on the elevator both before and after the alleged incident. He also testified about the design, function, operation, safety features, industry standards and door detectors.

Bryan Porter, also a mechanic for Kone, testified that the door detector and other safety devices were properly installed and functioning correctly at the time Smith's hand was caught between doors.

Saint Anthony's was represented by Edward Bott, Jr., and Mandy Hobson of Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale in St. Louis. The hospital denied any theory of negligence.

Before trial, Wilson filed a motion in limine asking Hylla to ban any mention of claims that have been made or will be made by Smith for workers' compensation recoveries.

Wilson also asked Hylla to ban any evidence of Smith's pre-existing ailment or condition unless there was proof of causation between her condition and her claims in the suit.

Kone wanted to call Smith regarding injuries she received prior to the date of the elevator incident.

Kone also wanted to ask her about factual circumstances regarding all workers' compensation claims brought against her employer for alleged injuries to her upper extremities prior to the door incident.

After Wilson presented Smith's case, both defendants asked Hylla for a directed verdict claiming Smith failed to meet her burden of proof.

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