Door closers and automatic operators provide convenience, safety, accessibility, and security in buildings by controlling door speed and force. Properly manufactured, installed, and maintained door controls provide many years of safe, trouble-free operation.
However, in the overall scope of builders hardware products, door closers and door operators are more likely to be involved in personal injury litigation than other hardware products. The reason is obvious; a door weighing from 100 to 200 lbs. moving in the path of a pedestrian can be hazardous if the door speed is not under control.
Considering the enormous number of doors with door closers and operators, and the relatively few reported incidents of personal injury involving door control products, their safety record is outstanding. However, accidents do happen, and a few of these incidents result in personal injury lawsuits.
The best way to avoid a personal injury lawsuit is to keep door hardware, particularly closers and operators, in good working order. However, despite the best efforts of those responsible for installing and maintaining doors and hardware, there is always the potential for a personal injury lawsuit, even if the door appears to be working perfectly. Those responsible for installing and maintaining door controls should have a preemptive personal injury lawsuit defense.
When an accident happens, the question arises, “Who is likely to be sued?” The “water cooler” answer is typically, “everyone involved.” The real answer is more straightforward. Plaintiffs, through their attorneys, try to recover damages from defendants with the means to pay, namely “those with deep pockets.” Building owners, management companies, manufacturers, and contractors with tangible assets or liability insurance are the most likely to be named in a lawsuit or cross complaint. Their employees are rarely named as defendants. However, employees may spend hours digging through records in the “discovery” phase of litigation, or in giving lengthy depositions.
Building owners or managers and their tenants should maintain a safe environment for their employees and their patrons. A written and enforced inspection and maintenance policy helps prevent accidents and serves as a formidable defense in itself. Should a lawsuit arise, such a policy shows the court the defendant is diligent and responsible. Contractors and locksmiths can build a preemptive defense through several “common sense” procedures.
It is important to understand state and local licensing laws. For example, California locksmiths operating outside in the field are required to have a California State Contractor's License. The owner of the firm holds the license and employees must have a locksmith permit issued by the state. Entrepreneurs may not represent themselves as being licensed by using someone else's license number. Unlicensed contractors have no legal right to collect payment for their services and have virtually no defense should their actions result in a personal injury lawsuit.
Companies that install and service automatic doors must advise their liability insurance carrier of activity in this field. It is important to tell the carrier what type of automatic door is being serviced. Some insurance carriers offer lower rates for contractors installing solely low energy automatic doors as defined by ANSI A-156.19 versus those who work on high-speed operators (ANSI A-156.10).
KNOWLEDGE OF ANSI STANDARDS
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) maintains minimum design and performance standards on builders' hardware products. Manufacturers certify that their products meet ANSI standards and the various grades within the standards. Building codes and procurement agencies typically require that products used on commercial and government buildings meet ANSI standards. Compliance with ANSI standards is often at the core of plaintiff and defendants' cases. Expert witnesses and consultants use ANSI standards as a guide when performing their inspection during site surveys. In deposition and trial, compliance (or non-compliance) with an ANSI standard may be pivotal in the ultimate outcome of a case. Contractors and building managers should maintain a file of ANSI standards. The manuals are relatively inexpensive and available directly from the American National Standards Institute.
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