Elevator Firm in Fatal N.Y. Accident Sued Over Plaza Injury

Transel Elevator Inc., which two weeks ago was servicing an elevator hours before it killed a Manhattan advertising firm employee, was sued this week over an accident at New York’s Plaza hotel, the latest in a series of similar suits filed against the company.

Cecilia Xirouhakis, a Plaza housekeeper, was injured when a freight elevator she was in last year rapidly descended and came to “a sudden and violent stop,” according to a complaint filed Dec. 27 in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Her lawyers said in the filing that Transel maintained and repaired the freight elevators at the Plaza.

On Dec. 14, New York-based Transel performed electrical maintenance on an elevator at 285 Madison Avenue. Later that day, it malfunctioned and killed Suzanne Hart, according to the New York City Buildings Department. Hart, 41, had stepped on to the elevator in the lobby en route to her office at Y&R, the Manhattan-based advertising agency formerly known as Young & Rubicam. The car shot up, pinning her between the elevator and the wall, police said.

An investigation into the accident by the New York City Department of Buildings is continuing, Tony Sclafani, a spokesman for the department, said. The department is also inspecting elevators in the city serviced by Transel, Sclafani said.

This week’s lawsuit by Xirouhakis is one of several elevator-injury claims filed in New York during the past few years against Transel. The company specializes in construction, repair and maintenance of residential and commercial elevator systems, according to its website.

Elevator Shaft

In another case, John Goldsmith claimed in a 2007 complaint that he fell into an elevator shaft at a building at 17-19 Union Square West in Manhattan. Goldsmith stepped through the elevator door at the ground floor, fell 20 feet, and landed in the concrete elevator-pit, court papers stated. Transel was responsible for maintenance, repairs and installing safeguards at the elevator, according to the complaint, which named other defendants.

Ellen Knight sued Transel in April, alleging she was severely injured at a building at 29 West 35th Street in Manhattan. Transel, which installed and maintained the elevators at the building, allowed a dangerous and “trap-like condition,” according to the complaint.

Allegations Denied

A spokesman for Transel didn’t return a call seeking comment on the lawsuits. Transel denied the allegations in the Goldsmith complaint and asked that it be dismissed, according to a court filing in 2008. The company also denied claims in Knight’s lawsuit and said any injuries were caused in whole or in part by her conduct and that of other defendants, according to a court filing.

After the accident this month that killed Hart, Transel said it was cooperating with the city’s investigation, adding that the safety of its elevators is a “top priority.”

Transel and other defendants in the Plaza lawsuit have yet to file answers to the complaint in that case.

New York’s Plaza hotel reopened in March 2008 after a two-year restoration that cost more than $400 million. El-Ad Properties bought the building on Fifth Avenue for $675 million in 2004. The new Plaza was designed with 282 hotel rooms and suites and 181 condominium apartments.

Fractured Bones

Daniel Friedman, an attorney at the law firm representing Xirouhakis, a New Jersey resident, said the sudden stop of the Plaza’s freight elevator was so severe she fractured bones in one of her feet.

“She was working with pain and kept plugging on until it became overwhelming,” Friedman said in an interview.

Xirouhakis’s complaint also named El-Ad Properties NY LLC, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts (U.S.) Inc. and Kingdom Holding Co. as defendants. El-Ad’s Victoria Robles declined to comment on the case. A representative of Fairmont didn’t return a message seeking comment. Kingdom Holding officials couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

The case is Cecilia Xirouhakis v. El-Ad Properties NY LLC, 11-114486, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).

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