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Court dismisses nurse's claim against elevator service company

Nurse Laura Wulff sued the Otis Elevator Company after falling while exiting an elevator at Henry Ford's Maplegrove Medical Center.  Otis had been called in on January 28, 2009 to service an elevator that was not levelling with the floor.  The repairman claimed the elevator was in good order when he left.   The next day, Wulff encountered a six-inch gap while walking out of the elevator, tripped and suffered injuries.  She sued Otis for negligence.

Otis argued that under the "Engler Majority's" revision of the common law, it owed no duty to Wulff or anyone other than Henry Ford.  It argued that its repairman could not be held accountable for any negligence in fulfilling his contractual duties to Ford:  in essence he and it enjoyed "contractual immunity" from negligence.  Wulff's attorneys countered that the repairman was negligent in performing his repairs and that the existence of a contract with Henry Ford did not release him from the common law duty to act with reasonable regard for the safety of others.  In support of their argument, Wulff's lawyers filed an affidavit from Henry Ford's elevator service repairman, alleging that Otis' man must have incidentally dislodged a contact while making repairs on the 28th, thereby creating a new leveling hazard.

The Court of Appeals traced the history of the operable law, including the Fultz case relied upon by Otis and the Leweke explanation of the Fultz case relied upon by Wulff.  It concluded that Otis did not have immunity for negligently performing repairs if it negligently created a new hazard.  Nevertheless, it dismissed Wulf's case on the basis that the affidavit Wulff filed was unduly speculative and did not adequately explain the experts' factual foundation for his opinion.  The Court stressed that Otis was called in on the 28th because the elevator was not leveling; this is the same complaint that resulted in the fall on the 29th, and Wulff's affidavit did not explain how the hazard was different.  It also held that Wulff was not an intended third-party beneficiary of the elevator maintenance contract between Henry Ford and Otis.

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