Elevator company appeals jury verdict
STATELINE — An international elevator company is asking a judge to reconsider a jury’s decision to award $2 million to a man who claims he was injured in a Lake Tahoe casino elevator.
Schindler Elevator Company filed a motion earlier this month asking the judge to either rule on the case independent of the jury’s decision or allow for a new trial entirely.
In July a jury ruled in favor of John Deatherage, a California man who says he was injured in an elevator at Harveys Lake Tahoe after it rapidly dropped and came to a sudden stop in 2014. In agreeing that the elevator company acted negligently, the jury awarded Deatherage $2 million in compensatory damage.
According to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Deatherage was riding on an elevator at Harveys Lake Tahoe on July 19, 2014, when the elevator “rapidly dropped before violently coming to a stop.”
Schindler portrayed a far different version of events in its motion following the jury verdict.
According to the company, Deatherage boarded the elevator with his nephew. Shortly after, adverse weather caused a power outage (or surge) at the casino.
The elevator stopped and the lights went off. A few seconds later, the lights came on and the elevator started to descend.
Deatherage, according to Schindler, testified that the elevator then dropped several stories before making a hard landing.
“Despite claiming that the elevator ‘dropped’ several stories, neither [Deatherage] (nor his nephew) fell down from their standing positions when the elevator stopped, nor was there any physical damage to the elevator,” Schindler writes.
Deatherage sued Schindler, which Harveys contracted with to perform service and maintenance on its elevators.
It is unclear if Harveys is still under contract with Schindler — a spokesman for Harveys Lake Tahoe responded “no comment” to an email asking if the casino still used Schindler for elevator maintenance.
In the original complaint, Deatherage’s attorney claimed the incident caused a painful injury to his back, resulting in “extreme pain to his back, groin and leg.” He underwent multiple epidural injections, physical therapy, a spinal fusion surgery and additional medical treatment in an effort to alleviate pain.
His medical expenses at the time of filing the lawsuit totaled more than $142,000. He also suffered “loss of enjoyment of life” and claimed that the Schindler “acted with reckless disregard of human safety.”
In the post-verdict motion, Schindler refuted the claims.
The document states Deatherage “failed to demonstrate that the elevator actually malfunctioned.”
“Thus, there was no legally sufficient basis for the jury to find in favor of [Deatherage] on his claim for negligence.”
Schindler also questioned the testimony of Deatherage’s elevator expert, Joseph Stabler, writing that he changed his testimony at trial. During the trial Stabler identified three components that could have malfunctioned, but admitted “there was no evidence that these components were not working before (or after) the incident,” according to Schindler’s motion.
Following the jury verdict, Deatherage’s legal team with Laddey, Clark & Ryan sent out a press release on the court case.
“The evidence was clear that Schindler woefully neglected to properly maintain the elevator which was located in a very busy hotel. This is about safety and putting people first,” Timothy Dinan, a partner at Laddey, Clark & Ryan, said in a press release.
In a statement issued to the Tribune prior to the latest court filing, a Schindler spokesperson criticized the move by Deatherage’s legal team.
“As this matter remains pending in the Federal District Court in Reno, Nevada subject to post-trial and appellate motion practice, Schindler believes it inappropriate to fully comment on the plaintiff’s ‘press release’ by which they seek to publicize their version of the case for their own benefit, other than stating that it disagrees with the version stated by them and that it will address the case facts in court and not in the press.”