Creating a Preemptive Defense Against 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.



Hardware manufacturers and distributors offer courses in the installation and maintenance of their products. Technicians should attend these classes and request certificates of completion. Industry trade associations offer certifications that require industry experience or completion of a testing program. The Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) offers classes and several grades of certification with elective choices. The American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers (AAADM) offers an inspector certification to member-sponsored participants that work with automatic doors. Candidates must verify tenure in the industry, take a two-day class, and pass an examination based on the material they learned in the class. Certifications and membership in industry associations enhance a defense.

Distribution and installation of automatic door operators was once limited to factory branches or franchises. However, since the adoption of disabled access provisions in building codes, several manufacturers now offer “low energy” door operators through the builders' hardware distribution channel. The standard for low energy door operators is ANSI A-156.19. It limits door opening and closing forces, door speed and weight. Access to these products opens a sizable market to small contractors and locksmiths. However, it exposes them to increased liability exposure, even though the safety record for low energy door operators is excellent. AAADM recently included low energy door operators in their inspector certification program.



Manufacturers of automatic doors formed the AAADM trade association in 1994 to promote automatic door operator safety. The AAADM inspector program lays out a method for technicians to inspect automatic doors in the field using ANSI A-156.10 and A-156.19 standards as guidelines. The AAADM certified inspector is expected to advise the building owner or manager of non-compliance with ANSI standards. While inspection and reporting would seem straightforward, legal arguments arise about which revision of an ANSI standard applies. ANSI revises its standards about every three to five years to keep up with evolving technology. Building codes typically reference ANSI standards, but typically do not require each and every automatic door to be brought up to the current standard. When a major safety upgrade is appropriate, automatic door contractors may advise their customers to do so, but do so on a voluntary basis.

Included in the AAADM inspection program is the “daily safety check” wherein the certified inspector applies a sticker with a checklist of inspection points in sight of the automatic door. The certified inspector is expected to review points with the building manager. Those who participate in the AAADM certification program should make a conscious effort to follow the steps outlined by the Association including daily safety check training. Plaintiff's attorneys are fully aware of the AAADM inspection program and are critical of service providers who do not follow the guidelines to the letter. The AAADM inspection program promotes automatic door safety, but it is not an installer certification nor is it a building code.



In the discovery phase of a lawsuit, clients' attorneys typically demand copies of all documents related to the case. This can be a time consuming process, particularly for the parties that must produce the documents. Opposing attorneys usually answer with a statement that the request is unreasonable. After legal wrangling, service reports almost always become part of the evidence package. It is most important that the service reports be accurate. Checking boxes by line items without actually performing the service or inspecting the work is detrimental to the defense. Supervisors should read all service reports and look for “red flags” such as “…door closer was leaking oil. But works OK. Wiped oil stain off door.” Obviously, a leaking door closer should be replaced immediately before it becomes a hazard.

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