Injury claim arising from stalled elevator is dismissed
Lisa Young sued Harper-Hutzel and the Otis Elevator Company, arguing they were responsible for injuries she suffered when their elevator "doors shook violently...the elevator floor moved, jerked and suddenly dropped...did not line up properly with the floor" and caused her to lose her balance and fall. In 2007, the trial court dismissed Young's claim against Otis, finding under the Engler Majority's activist Fultz-decision that Otis enjoyed contractual immunity: having signed a contract with the hospital to service the elevator, Otis no longer owed any duty to persons using the elevator. Otis was not responsible for its own negligence.
Once that latter decision was made, the outcome of Young's case against Harper-Hutzel was a foregone conclusion. The next year, Harper-Hutzel sought summary disposition arguing that it had no notice of a defect in the elevator and that it was not negligent in servicing the elevator. The trial court granted Harper-Hutzel's claim--rightfully pointing to its contract with Otis to provide appropriate maintenance of the mechanism. On appeal, the higher court agreed, noting that the owner would only be responsible for a defective condition if there were evidence that it was aware of the condition prior to the injury. In the instant situation, the evidence demonstrated no knowledge by the hospital that Otis had not properly maintained the elevator.
Young's attorneys argued that notice should to the hospital should be inferred from the fact that reams of elevator maintenance records had "disappeared," creating an inference that they would have supported Young's liability claim. The Court noted, however, that this inference of fault arising from "spoliation" applies only when the defendant is in possession of the evidence: in this case, Otis was the entity that "lost" the pertinent records and against whom the inference would lie; and Young had not appealed the dismissal of Otis from the case.