Friday, June 26–Ocean City Seeks Dismissal In Escalator Fall Lawsuit

OCEAN CITY – Legal posturing continued last week in the $500,000 civil suit filed in May against the town of Ocean City, its Convention and Visitors Bureau and a private company by a former Vermont high school student injured when an escalator in the Roland E. Powell Convention Center suddenly stopped and started heading in the opposite direction in May 2006 with the town formally denying any culpability in the accident and seeking a dismissal of the case.

In May 2006, several members of a high school band from Vermont, in Ocean City for the annual Youth Music Competition at the Convention Center, were injured when the north elevator to the second floor stopped suddenly and starting running in reverse. Several of the students fell during the accident and a handful were taken to Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin where they were treated for a wide variety of injuries.

Nearly three years to the day of the accident, one of the injured students, Rebecca Beall, of Barre, Vt., filed suit in U.S. District Court, claiming negligence against the town of Ocean City, the Ocean City Convention Center and Visitors Bureau, Inc., and the private ThyssenKrupp Elevator Company, which the town retained to service and maintain the faulty escalator. The suit is seeking $500,000 in damages jointly and severally against the defendants for the various alleged roles in the accident.

Last week, the town of Ocean City, through City Solicitor Guy Ayres, formally answered the complaint filed on May 1, categorically denying any culpability in the escalator accident that allegedly injured Beall and several of her classmates. The town’s formal answer also seeks a dismissal of the suit filed against it by Beall.

“The defendant denies all allegations of negligence against it in the complaint, is without knowledge or information sufficient to for a belief as to the remaining allegations and any allegations not specifically admitted are hereby specifically denied,” the town’s formal answer reads. “Having answered the complaint, the Mayor and City Council of Ocean City prays that the complaint be dismissed.”

In its formal answer to the suit, the town asserts the complaint is barred by governmental immunity and also states the plaintiff, Beall, is guilty on some level of contributory negligence. For its part, ThyssenKrupp has also denied any and all allegations against the company and also raises the defense of contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff and the defense of an assumption of risk. ThyssenKrupp’s answer goes on to say Beall was not injured as alleged and that her medical condition pre-existed the incident in question.

The town’s formal answer, along with the escalator maintenance company’s answer, are all part of a series of routine filings in civil suits and have not yet been ruled on by a judge. In addition, both the town and the company that serviced the escalator in question have filed counter-claims against each other seeking to deflect liability should the case go in favor of the plaintiff further down the road.

According to reports on the accident from three years ago, there were around 25 people on the escalator at the time it malfunctioned and as many as 10 Vermont high school students were injured including Beall. The complaint filed earlier this month alleges Beall was injured severely when several of the students fell on her and pinned her to the moving escalator.

“As a direct and proximate result of the defendants’ negligence, Rebecca Beall fell with her face toward the escalator,” the complaint reads. “Rebecca Beall was pinned down on the escalator by the weight of other classmates who had fallen on top of her. The continued movement of the escalator repeatedly lacerated her face, scalp and shoulder while she was pinned down and unable to move.”

The complaint goes on to state the victim suffers from severe headaches, migraines, nausea, chills, shaking, blackouts and light and sound sensitivity. It also states she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic migraine disorder and also suffers from anxiety and phobias of escalators as a result of the May 5, 2006 incident.