Washington Case Law Update: Store Owner Cannot Escape from Vicarious Liability for Faulty Escalator
From the desk of Kyle D. Riley: Escalator owners and operators fall under the category of “common carriers,” which means that they owe their passengers the highest degree of care. But can the escalator owners and operators shield themselves from liability by showing that they delegated their duty to an independent contractor who serviced the escalator or by contending that they lacked notice of problems with the escalator? Read on to find out.
Claims Pointer: In this case arising out of injuries suffered by passengers of an escalator, the Washington Court of Appeals held that where an escalator malfunctions due to negligent maintenance and causes injuries, the owner and operator of the escalator have a nondelegable duty of care and cannot escape liability by delegating the maintenance and service of the escalator to an independent contractor. The court also held that the owners and operators could not escape liability by showing that they had no notice of defects or malfunctions with the escalator. This case serves as an important reminder of the heightened duty of care that common carriers owe to their passengers.
Knutson v. Macy’s W. Stores, Inc., No. 75565-0-I, Washington Court of Appeals Div. I (December 11, 2017)
Natasha Knutson, her husband, and daughter (“the Knutsons”) stepped onto an escalator outside of Macy’s department store as they were leaving a holiday performance at the Bellevue Square Mall. As they were riding up the escalator, one of the escalator steps jammed, however, because of poor maintenance, the fail-safe mechanisms did not shut off the escalator, so it continued to run. Witnesses to the accident described hearing a screeching noise, and then the steps began to pile up, causing the escalator to collapse on itself and injure several persons including the Knutsons. Following an investigation, the Department of...