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Jones v. Schindler Elevator Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 17, 2019

MABLE S. JONES, Plaintiff,
SCHINDLER ELEVATOR CO., et al, Defendants.


          CHAD F. KENNEY, J.

         I. Introduction & Background

         Plaintiff alleges that "[o]n the morning of January 12, 2017, at Bloomingdales Willow Grove location, [she] suffered serious and permanent injuries as the result of the malfunction of the 'up' escalator between the second and third floors of the store." Compl. ¶ 3. More specifically, Plaintiff testified that while riding on the escalator with her granddaughter, who was in a stroller straddled across multiple escalator steps, when she was "somewhere between half way and two-thirds up," the hem of her left "pant leg became caught between the steps and that should not have happened." Mable Dep. Tr. 56:3-9, 56:14-16, 56:17-21, 106:7-11, 111:13-18. As a result, Plaintiff testified that the tugging on her pants hem caused her to fall. Id. at 61:21-62:10. Plaintiff did not recall looking down to see where the hem of her pants was caught. Id. at 62:16-19. After Plaintiff fell, she was helped by a Bloomingdales employee, continued to shop for approximately twenty minutes using the elevator to travel to the third floor and then back down again, and then left the store. Id. at 119:3-120:2. Plaintiff claims that consequently, she suffered a concussion, which is "supported by her medical record and her treating physician." ECF No. 58 at ¶ 14. However, Plaintiff does not cite to any document of record to support the occurrence of this injury or the diagnosis thereof.

         Plaintiff testified that while riding the escalator, she did not observe anything out of the ordinary about the movement of the escalator. Id. at 73:9-15. Indeed, it was not operating at an excessive speed, it was not jerking or shaking, it was not lurching, and it was not stopping or starting suddenly. Id. at 73:16-24. In fact, the escalator was operating the same way it had operated on all of Plaintiff s previous occasions riding that escalator. Id. at 74:1-5. Those observations by Plaintiff herself are supported by the routine daily escalator inspection log completed by Bloomingdales employees for the escalator in question. ECF No. 47-1 at p. 62.

         Despite Plaintiff having reported the day after the accident that it was her sneaker[1] that caught in the escalator step that caused her to fall, Plaintiff testified that it was in fact her pant hem that caught on the escalator that caused her to fall. Id. at 82:8-10, 83:24-84:2. Plaintiff testified that her pants hem did not extend below the sole of her shoes, but that they did not end above her ankle either. Id. at 57:14-58:19. In her words, "[t]hey did not drag on the floor, and they were not high waters." Id. at 58:8-9.

         Plaintiff testified that she was unaware of which part of her hem caught on the escalator. Id. at 56:17-21. (A: "My hem. The hem. I can't speculate whether it was the front or the back or the side. I don't know. It just caught"). Further, Plaintiff never observed any damage to the hem of the left leg of her pants following the accident. Id. at 57:10-13. Defendants requested the production of the pants Plaintiff was wearing the day of the accident, but Plaintiff testified that she "would need to look for them" in order to produce them and did not know whether even if produced, Defendants would be able to observe any damage to the pants. Id. at 57:6-9 ("But it's not as though I've examined them or seen them since this happened, and it's been almost two years. It's been over two years. I would need to look for them."); at 56:22-57:3.

         Plaintiff also testified that sitting at her deposition she did not know whether there was anything about the operations of the escalator that was a "malfunction." Id. at 56:10-13. She stated that she did not recall looking down to see where on the escalator the hem of her pant was caught, only that she "felt the tug. That is what informed me that there was a pulling on my hem." Id. at 61:21-62:19. In essence, Plaintiff could not explain in her deposition how the pant leg "became trapped between two escalator steps." Id. at 66:6-9. Indeed, when asked what the defective condition of the escalator was as claimed in the Complaint, Plaintiff said "[t]he condition that caused my pant leg to be caught." Id. at 71:4-8; at 71:9-17 ("Q: You've already told me that you don't know what that condition was because you're not sure where your pant leg was caught; is that correct? A: That is correct. However, my pant leg was caught. So it follows then that there was something abnormal about the escalator or my pant would not have been caught."); at 71:18-21; 72:1-5 ("Q: Basically what you're saying is that since your accident happened, you think there's something wrong with the escalator; is that a fair summary of your belief? ... A: The fact that the accident happened; the fact that my pant leg was caught; then it follows that there was something wrong with the - yeah, I think that speaks for itself. I agree. That's my position, yes."); at 73:3-8 ("Q: Do you know what type of maintenance was required on that type of escalator? A: Only that it was not adequate to prevent my fall. If it had been adequate, then I would not have fallen.").

         Plaintiff recognizes that she does not know anything about the design or maintenance of escalators. Id. at 67:8-11; at 68:20-69:3 ("Q: Do you have any knowledge of whether the space or clearance between one step and another step, and the space or clearance between the step and the side skirts of the escalator on the day of you accident exceeded the clearance specified in the national elevator safety code? A: I have no such knowledge."); at 69:4-9 ("Q: Do you have any knowledge of what the clearance specified by the escalator designer for the space between one step to another and the space between step and the side skirt was at the time of installation? A: I have no such knowledge.").

         Plaintiff admits that before this accident happened, she was aware that she was not supposed to take strollers on escalators, but she did not remember noticing the signage by the entrance to the escalator advising that strollers should not be taken on the escalator. Id. at 127:4-129:6. Indeed, she testified that before this accident happened, she did not think that she had ever taken the stroller on the escalators either at Bloomingdales or at any other location. Id. at 99:14-18.

         Based upon those stated facts, Plaintiff filed suit in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas against Schindler Elevator Corporation ("Schindler"), Bloomingdales, Inc. ("Bloomingdales"), [2] and Broadspire Services, Inc. ("Broadspire") alleging claims for "strict liability - defect in design - product liability" against all Defendants claiming that they maintained, installed, and assembled the escalator, which had an unspecified defect from the date of installation (Count I); "negligent design and/or maintenance - product liability" against all Defendants claiming that they were negligent in design, manufacture installation, and maintenance (Count II); and "strict liability - abnormally dangerous activity - products liability" against Bloomingdales and Broadspire based on those Defendants' alleged maintenance of the escalator (Count III). ECF No. 1 at p. 22.

         Schindler and Bloomingdales moved to remove the case to this Court thereafter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1446(a). ECF No. 1 at p. 9. Broadspire consented to the removal of this action, and this Court later dismissed the claims as against Broadspire. Id.; ECF No. 19.

         II. Standard of Review

         "At the summary judgment stage, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). As the Supreme Court has emphasized "[w]hen the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts .... Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Id. (quoting Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)).

         "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Id. (quotation and citation omitted). "When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should ...

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