All elevators must have inspection permits posted, and all California elevators must get that inspection once a year. An NBC Bay Area Investigation found that doesn't always happen.
Andrew Michael will never look at elevators the same way again, after one step changed his life forever. He says, "I assumed the elevator was there, and walked into it, and fell because it wasn't there." Michael literally stepped into a black hole, falling down two stories. His wife Jackie witnessed the whole thing. She says, "I didn't know if he was alive or dead and I was calling to him, and he wasn't answering because he was totally unconscious lying on the bottom of this elevator shaft."
That was more than three years ago, and while Michael's broken bones have healed, the traumatic brain injury he suffered, will likely never fully heal. He says, "Even today we're still somewhat struggling with the recovery of it."
In a lawsuit, which was eventually settled, the couple's attorney claimed safety hazards caused the accident. In this case, an expired elevator permit had nothing to do with Andrew Michael's accident, but an NBC Bay Area Investigation has found hundreds of Bay Area elevators are running with an expired permit.
We found them in department stores, office buildings, permits that have been expired for several years. We even found an expired elevator permit in Andrew and Jackie's apartment building.
Our analysis of a state database found nearly two dozen expired permits at BART. Spokesman Linton Johnson says, "It's difficult for us to be able to keep up with the paperwork that goes along with maintaining the elevators, I mean our No. 1 priority of course is safety, and so our elevators are safe, but in terms of trying to keep up with the paperwork that goes along with it, to show you that they're safe, well, that can be an issue sometimes."
So why isn't the system working? California's Department of Industrial Relations is in charge of inspecting the elevators once a year, and issuing the permits. But it's the building owner's responsibility to maintain the elevator, and schedule those inspections. Spokesman Dean Fryer says, "If an owner doesn't call us, that elevator may experience a lag time before it gets a new permit due to our workload, due to our scheduling, and on some occasions unfortunately we do find elevators that don't get caught."
Even if a building owner schedules an inspection before the permit expires, it can still take months to get that inspection done. Fryer explains why. "Right now, we have 26 inspectors in the Bay Area. That's not a lot. I mean, each inspector can do four to five inspections a day of elevators."
That's 26 inspectors for roughly 32,000 elevators across the Bay Area. That's just unacceptable for Andrew and Jackie, who says, "I blame the owners, but you know where was the state, where were they in stepping up to the plate, and really forcing and enforcing the rules where were they?"
The California Department of Industrial Relations says it is revamping its database. The department says the new database will give advance notifications of permits that will soon expire. It hopes to have the database up and running by the end of the year.