Damages in Superdome Elevator Crash Upheld

     (CN) – Football fans who plummeted five stories in an overcrowded elevator at the New Orleans Superdome were properly awarded damages, a Louisiana appeals court ruled.
     However, the court also found that in the case of one of the injured fans, an award for past lost wages was miscalculated, and it slashed that portion of her damages by $32,700.
     Kizzy Stamps, Jocelyn Burch and Keela James sued the arena after the accident, which took place after a New Orleans Saints football game on Dec. 16 2007.
     The three plaintiffs testified that they and as many as 15 other spectators were on the elevator when it suddenly plummeted to the bottom of the elevator shaft.
     When it reached the bottom, wires, lights and insulation fell onto the stunned passengers, court documents say.
     The passengers panicked, calling for help aloud and on their cell phones. Rescuers managed to raise the elevator enough to pull the accident victims out.
     At the time of the appeal, all of the lawsuits had been resolved except those of Stamps, Burch and James against SMG Inc., the company that manages the daily operations of the stadium.
     The plaintiffs claimed that SMG negligently failed to maintain the elevator, to warn them of its condition, and to prevent overloading.
     The trial court agreed, awarding the plaintiffs almost $2 million for pain and suffering; lost wages; medical expenses; and costs.
     The court ruled that the elevator was not defective, but that SMG failed to keep it from being loaded beyond its capacity.
     SMG appealed, arguing the plaintiffs did not prove their case, and that the court should have found some comparative fault on the part of the plaintiffs and their fellow passengers.
     The Fourth Circuit Louisiana Court of Appeals disagreed, affirming the trial court’s ruling in an opinion written by Judge Madeleine Landrieu.
     “In its reasons for judgment, the trial court noted that despite having notice of problems with overcrowding and prior instances of elevator malfunction due to overcrowding, SMG did not put an attendant or any plan in place to monitor or control the crowds entering elevators,” she noted.
     Landrieu cited the testimony of John Simon, who worked for SMG when 30 attendees of the 2005 Essence Festival got stuck in an elevator.
     Another SMG employee testified that two months before the accident, another overloaded Superdome elevator got stuck between floors.
     “SMG knew or should have known that elevators in the Superdome had previously malfunctioned due to being overcrowded,” Landrieu wrote. “This risk, then, was foreseeable.”
     On the issue of comparative fault, the three passengers testified that they did not see a sign on the elevator regarding a weight limit or passenger limit.
     “We find that to hold plaintiffs responsible for monitoring how many other occupants entered the elevator after they had already boarded would be both unreasonable and impractical,” Landrieu wrote.
     While the judge affirmed almost all the damages awarded to Kizzy Stamps, she nevertheless found some variance in the testimony of expert witnesses about how much Stamps worked between the time of the accident and the trial.
     These differences resulted in an error in calculating Stamps’ lost wages, which Landrieu sought to correct.In doing so she reduced the amount Stamps is entitled to from $113,160 to $80,460.

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