Eight Giants Stadium patrons settled their claim against Schindler Elevator Corp. on Monday, hours after attorneys described to jurors in a trial in Hackensack how several patrons suffered injuries when an escalator at the stadium malfunctioned four years ago.
“The matter between the plaintiffs and Schindler Elevator has been resolved,” Judge Alexander Caver said Monday afternoon.
The settlement amount will remain confidential, he said.
The plaintiffs did not settle with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, another defendant in the lawsuit, and that part of the case continued.
“The parties have been engaged in settlement talks for some time now,” said Ed DePascale, an attorney for Schindler. “An agreement was reached on a middle number.”
He declined to discuss the settlement amount, but said it includes no admission of fault on the part of Schindler.
He also declined to comment about whether Schindler would change its escalator maintenance practices.
Larry Bendesky, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, however, said the settlement indicates that Schindler accepted responsibility.
Michael Harris, one of the plaintiffs who lost his right leg as a result of the incident on Dec. 29, 2007, incident, said he was pleased with the settlement.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “I am pleased that it has come to the end.”
Robert Garrison, another plaintiff, said he, too, was pleased.
“We’ve got a little more to go but it’s finally over,” he said.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys said earlier in their opening statements that Schindler – the world’s largest escalator manufacturer, with annual revenue in excess of $8 billion – failed to properly maintain the escalators at Giants Stadium, leading to an accident four years ago that injured eight patrons, including a man who lost his right leg.
The incident on Dec. 29, 2007, was also caused by negligence on the part of the sports authority, which knew that escalator overloading at the stadium was a safety hazard but did nothing about it, Bendesky said.
Bendesky was the first attorney to make opening statements in a trial in Superior Court in Hackensack, in which the eight plaintiffs sued for an unspecified amount in damages.
Bendesky said that Harris, Joseph Capuano, and several others were among thousands of patrons who were leaving the stadium after the Giants loss to the New England Patriots that day.
The 122-foot-long and 61-foot-high escalator on which they were riding suddenly picked up speed, causing riders to tumble forward and pile up on one another at the bottom of the escalator, he said.
One of the riders, Dr. Cy Stein, testified Monday that it was like skiing down a mountain slope once the escalator began accelerating. He said he crouched to a sitting position to maintain his balance but was thrown forward when he got to the bottom of the escalator, where he saw other riders with injuries.
The accident began with a broken shaft in the escalator’s drive, which tripped safety switches that automatically activated the brakes, he said.
Schindler officials knew that the broken shaft was a welded one that could break and that there were safer alternatives to that part, known as “forged shafts,” Bendesky said.
Schindler officials, however, did not replace the unsafe parts, even though they knew about them for months, he said.
Bendesky also said that Schindler officials had failed to inspect the escalator brakes after they were installed in 2002.
“Everyone who walked into Giants Stadium that day had the right to expect that Schindler would perform its responsibility properly,” he said.
The sports authority, meanwhile, was informed through several memos and letters since 2000 that overloading of escalators was a safety hazard.
“They never did anything, ever, to limit the number of people on the escalators,” Bendesky said.
Paul Soderman, an attorney for the sports authority, told jurors during his opening statement that escalator overloading was never an issue. He said that starting in 2000, more than 45 million people had used the Giants Stadium escalators. The stadium was torn down in 2010.
There is no clear definition of what “overloaded” means, he said, and it is not known how many people or how much weight was on the escalator when it malfunctioned.
He said the accident occurred because Schindler failed to maintain and inspect its escalators.
Michael Noonan, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told jurors that the steel steps at the bottom of the escalator became bent and twisted, leaving an opening wide enough to trap someone’s foot.
Harris was one of the unfortunate ones whose foot got caught at the bottom of the escalator, Noonan said. He was trapped for more than half an hour before he was extricated with the Jaws of Life.
When he was finally freed, his foot was so crushed that his friend described it as looking “flat as a pancake,” Noonan said.
Harris underwent several operations until his foot was ultimately amputated in 2010, Noonan said.
The trial will resume Wednesday.