GATE & FENCE
ACCIDENTS & INJURIES
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By Michael Panish
Automatic Door & Gate Expert Witness
Malfunctioning gates and fences can cause catastrophic and traumatic bodily
injury and death.
Providing expert services on numerous gate related injury claims has shown
me that there are as many ways to become injured by a gate as there are
types of gates. Whether the gate was part of a residential or commercial
property, hotel, hospital, themed attraction, or penal institution sally
port, malfunctioning gates have been the reason for all types of personal
injury and wrongful death claims.
I am generally retained as expert witness on about a dozen active gate
related personal injury or wrongful death claims at any one time. These
cases are sometimes caused by defectively operating products associated
with a multitude of problems. Some are caused by damage created by outside
forces such as vehicular impacts or adverse weather conditions. Others
are due to improperly maintained sliding or swinging car barriers or overhead
apartment complex garage portals. Many are directly related to unprofessional
service providers failing to understand required equipment problems that
were later the cause of a claim. Other claims have proven to be the fault
of the person injured. Equally providing my services to both the plaintiff
and defense has enabled me to analyze all claims from a point of view
that is unbiased. Each claim has been completely different, yet share
many of the same types of related common component issues.
When I am contacted to become involved in one of these claims, the most
important part of my investigation into the injury is to be able to thoroughly
evaluate the gate, related parts, and service provider involvement. Sometimes
the gate and operators have been removed, destroyed, or lost. In those
cases, photographs and videos of the incident are all that is left to
be analyzed. In some claims, as a result of years of neglect, gates have
become disconnected from their tracks, welds have broken, or the gates
have fallen apart and on to someone. In other claims, the electric gate
operators have imparted severe forces to turn an otherwise well maintained
gate into a potentially fatal weapon. Deferred or improperly maintained
gate operators missing critical safety devices have failed to protect
users from impact injuries. Some injuries have occurred due to abuse of
some kind by the party now making the claim.
Gates and their associated operators have the potential to become deadly.
I was asked to analyze a case where a small child was crushed behind a
moving gate. I found the gate to have an improperly operating closer.
No safety devices were ever installed with this system, as the contractor
that had provided the equipment had opted not to plug in a couple of required
modules, due to his lack of understanding of what the modules did.
In another case, there was no adjacent on/off switch near the gate. In
one case, a workman was trapped and ultimately crushed between a stone
wall and the gate when the gate mechanism was activated from a remote
location. Ironically, the worker was the son of the man that had installed
the gate several years earlier. No disconnect switch was ever provided
because the installer was not aware that a local disconnect switch was required.
Gate and Fence Service Providers
Having examined thousands of pages of deposition testimony related to gate
injury and wrongful death claims, I often discover that the local gate
service provider is insufficiently qualified to perform the required evaluation
or preventative maintenance and lacks the knowledge of the systems installed.
The subject gate operator installation was merely an adjunct to his normal
scope of business which is installing yard fencing materials or other
Many gate injury cases have been brought against homeowners' and condo
associations that had service agreements with unqualified service providers.
Repeatedly, I have read testimony that has stated that no formal training
of any kind was ever given to the service provider. Often the reason for
this lack of professionalism is due to what is commonly referred to as
"watch one - do one - teach one" training. A new employee will
"ride along" with a more experienced, although never properly
trained employee or owner of a fence materials company. As this new employee
is "taught" how to "service" the gate systems, wrong
information or overall disjointed information is imparted as "how
to service and maintain" these products. Eventually the new employee,
often after only a couple of weeks of observation, is given his own truck
and sent out to provide maintenance to products that he has only seen
once or possibly helped test. Later, as need dictates, that same employee
with whatever information and minimal experience he has acquired may be
charged with training the next generation of gate service providers.
If an organization such as a homeowner's condo association relies upon
a "professional service provider", and a full time ongoing maintenance
contract is in place with that service provider, it is generally easy
to make a direct connection between a defective condition and that service provider.
If there is no maintenance policy established with any service provider,
and repairs are only made retroactively, there is less in the way of cause
and effect that can be directly attributed to any service company. However,
improper workmanship and wrong evaluations by a so called professional
service provider may still attach that provider to an injury claim.
Gate Injury Accidents and Claims
Some actual cases where I have been the retained gate injury expert:
Woman hits gate with car, then gates falls on her as she walks underneath it
A woman attempting to enter a high lift rolling gate system in a commercial
high rise building struck the gate with her car. As she could not gain
access to the parking area, she entered the building through an adjacent
single pedestrian doorway. When the automatic lift mechanism was activated,
the gate, having been damaged, fell apart and fell onto the woman. The
event was recorded on video as it happened. In this case, the woman never
admitted to driving her car into the closed gate and failed to inform
anyone that she had done so. After the gate collapsed upon her, the security
camera recording of the entrance showed that she had in fact hit the gate
with significant force. The impact from her vehicle created several bent
component parts in the rolling gate which created a condition that allowed
the gate to become stuck and un-tensioned. The gate, became disconnected
from the activation drum, over-rotated and spilled upon the woman that
was standing underneath the opening. In this claim, the gate was regularly
maintained by appropriate service providers, and the damage created by
the impact with the car was the sole cause of this injury.
Forklift driver hits gate, delivery driver is buried by gate
A forklift struck a loading dock gate from within, and when the awaiting
delivery truck driver began to enter the loading bay from the outside,
the gate became dislodged and crushed him as he crossed under the damaged
gate. Real time video recorded the incident. When the forklift driver
hit the loading dock gate, he was unconcerned. The delivery driver attempting
to access the opening was unaware that the gate had been broken by the
forklift and upon raising the security gate he dislodged the now broken
gate pieces and was unfortunately buried by the broken slats and fasteners.
Small child entered fenced pool area when the slat spacing was not up to
A four year old child playing unattended in the backyard of an apartment
complex was able to climb through a pool fence surround and fell into
the common area swimming pool. The child was found struggling in the water
and pulled to safety prior to drowning. The resident/parent of the child
filed suit against the apartment management and ownership. A claim was
made that the child should have never been left alone in the apartment
yard by the management. Signs had been posted warning that there was no
lifeguard on duty, and that the management made the tenants aware that
they were using the pool at their own risk. That line of defense was quickly
pushed away as Mr. Panish made a site visit to examine the pool fencing
system. He found that the spacing of the vertical and horizontal fence
bars was inappropriate and did not meet any code requirements since the
apartment had been built. The pool was apparently in place prior to the
construction of the new apartment buildings and the gate and fence had
not been changed or upgraded to meet current code compliance. The fact
that the child was able to gain access to the pool by slipping his body
sideways between the vertical bars was quickly recognized when the site
inspection showed that an 8" sphere would easily pass between the
fencing. Building codes at the time of the apartment construction clearly
stated that no more than a 4" sphere should be allowed to pass between
any fencing materials. During mediation of this claim a reasonable agreement
was reached between the two parties, and the pool fence was reworked to
comply with current standards of safety.
Overhead security gate falls on warehouse worker
A worker in a commercial warehouse had an overhead security gate fall on
him when the reel detached from the gate brackets shortly after being
serviced by an overhead door company. Partial video coverage was available.
Service had been performed on the overhead gate the previous day. The
service providers had failed to properly reattach the gate curtain to
the operating drum. After the gate was opened and closed one or two times,
the gate mesh separated from the overhead mechanism that was designed
to operate the gate. The service providers failed to test the gate after
the repair was made and left the gate in an unsafe condition that created
the injury. There was enough video evidence that was observed that showed
that the service providers were directly responsible for this injury.
Parking lot gate falls on pedestrian
A manual rolling parking lot gate system was hit by a truck as the truck
attempted to enter the parking lot. An hour later, a pedestrian walking
past the gate was hit when the gate fell over as the brackets attached
to the cinder block wall had been pulled off of the block wall by the
truck impact. When a truck ran into the rolling gate in this case, the
force dislodged the aged hardware that was installed into voids in the
cinder block wall system. The loose hardware lost its ability to connect
the gate rail system and the gate was left precariously balancing on the
now damaged tubular sliding system. Wind or vibrations from passing traffic
created enough force to topple the now loose gate onto the pedestrian
walking down the street.
Delivery truck damaged by gate
During a product delivery the truck driver using a powered pallet jack
struck a rolling gate, moved it off of the steel track embedded in the
concrete, and pulled the door away from the designed path of travel. The
gate fell over and damaged the delivery truck. A truck driver making deliveries
using a powered pallet jack was unaware that he had made contact with
the parking gate fence as he was bringing the last pallet into a commercial
warehouse. It was discovered that over a ton of materials were being moved
by that pallet jack. Due to the fact that the pallet jack was powered,
the truck driver never felt the impact with the gate as the pallet struck
and pushed the gate off of the floor track. The gate bent away from the
tube railing that it normally moved on and fell over onto the truck just
as the pallet jack was being lifted up onto the rear tail gate lift of
the truck. Fortunately for the driver, the truck was the only casualty
in this claim.
Woman and infant struck by wrought iron gate
A small 4' wide x 6' high wrought iron pedestrian gate adjacent
to a condominium complex entrance dropped off of its' hinges. The
gate had been continually sprayed with water from the irrigation system
of the nearby planters. After approximately 20 years of this constant
condition, the pivot hinges finally rusted away. A woman and her infant
in a stroller were struck by the door as it fell from the pivots. No inspection
or evaluation was ever made to the gate or pivots even though the paint
was showing significant rust had developed. The owner of the adjacent
condo, as well as the property management service, never paid any attention
to the fence and rarely used it for entering the property.
Sliding gate strikes elderly woman
An elderly resident of an apartment complex was struck by a malfunctioning
sliding gate when the gate operator suddenly sped up and came into contact
with the woman as she was crossing the gate threshold. The automatic sliding
gate used to close off a subterranean parking area in this apartment building
was never serviced or maintained in any way. As a key card was used to
access the parking area from the street side, the automatic timer of the
gate operator was the only control to maintain the open position of the
gate. The timer had finished the cycle and began to close the gate. The
automatic sliding gate did not have any photo sensors or any other safety
devices across the threshold, and the gate closed. During the travel of
the gate the motor control suddenly sped up, and as the woman was about
to cross the gate track on the threshold, she was struck by the leading
edge of the moving gate. Measurements of force showed that when the woman
made contact with the gate it was in excess of 500 pounds of force. As
she went down from this impact, she broke her shoulder and hip.
Parking garage gate crushes down onto car
A tenant of a beach side apartment complex was leaving the subterranean
parking area, his car approached the pedestrian sidewalk, and the driver
stopped the car. While the car was still underneath the overhead gate,
the pivot hinges that were mounted on both sides of the gate broke loose
from the cinder block mounting plates. The overhead gate crashed down
upon the car smashing the roof, trunk, rear window and windshield. It
was determined that the salt air had corroded the hinges after many years
without any lubrication or maintenance. Rust had developed that seized
the bearings of the hinges. The rust had created a condition where the
door movements had twisted the anchor bolts out of the wall since the
hinges could no longer rotate. There was never any preventative service
or maintenance to the motor controller, and the clutch mechanism that
would have prevented this situation was found to have been disabled and
in a failed condition. No cross threshold beams were installed, and the
gate closed upon the occupied area due to the timer function of the gate operator.
Casino overhead security gate falls onto patron
A casino patron was standing adjacent to a loose link security gate. Suddenly
the gate broke away from the drum that coiled the gate. The full weight
of the gate and gate materials fell onto the patron, cracking his skull,
imparting significant force to his neck and spine, and fracturing his
lower leg. The casino had not had any service or maintenance performed
to this security gate since it was installed 10 years prior. The gate
was regularly opened and closed a couple of times a day.
Swinging gate reverses and smashes 2 cars
An automatic loop controlled swinging gate system suddenly reversed and
smashed into two cars as the drivers were waiting to leave the parking
lot. On a rain soaked day, a swinging automatic parking gate attempted
to close while two vehicles were in the path of travel. The gate was supposed
to have been monitored by in ground magnetic loops to guard against this
situation. It was found that the loops were defective, and had been a
known condition for several months prior to the incident. The service
providers felt that the readings that were observed when tested were substandard,
but failed to inform the property management. Both cars were hit by the
un-sensored gate system.
Construction fencing gets blown onto pedestrian
A temporary gate and construction fence were lifted off of their support
posts due to high winds in the area. An improperly anchored long term
temporary construction fence became airborne when strong winds lifted
it from the in-ground posts. A pedestrian was struck with the wind whipping
fence, and was catapulted over 30 feet into the air when a subsequent
gust lifted the gate and fence materials as he was attempting to cross
the downed fence in his path. There were no appropriate connections made
between the fence fabric and vertical posts. The gate and all of the fence
posts were planted in sand only. At some point prior to the incident,
privacy screen fabric was attached to this temporary fence and gate system.
As the pedestrian attempted to cross over this now disconnected fence,
a high gust of wind lifted him off of the ground and flung him into an
adjacent street lamp post. It was determined that no engineering or calculations
were ever made when the decision was made to place the screen fabric without
further uplift hardware being installed. The original fence provider was
never made aware of the changes made to his installation.
What went wrong?
If the gates were maintained, what went wrong? Was there an outside influence
that was uncontrollable or acted upon the gate that led to the injury?
Was the service provider competent to make appropriate repairs or maintenance?
If the gates were not maintained, the facilities either relied upon the
owner or management to perform any repairs to these products that failed.
The lack of inspection, maintenance and knowledge of the operators and
gates are often due to a desire to decrease the costs to maintain the
property. Some depositions have shown that owners felt that the reason
that they have building insurance is to protect them from claims such
as these. Failure to maintain is not to be offset by an insurance policy
for coverage after an injury occurs.
Many gate related injuries have occurred because the automatic gate operator
is not properly maintained. There are generally multiple types of safety
devices that are part of these operators. Sensory loops that assist in
obstacle detection with vehicular gates are generally buried adjacent
to both sides of the threshold. These magnetic loops are often used to
determine vehicle proximity to the path of travel of the gate. If these
loops do not work as designed, they can create a condition where no zone
coverage of protection exists.
Concrete or asphalt can cause reactions with the insulation of these loops
and lead to direct grounding of the loop sensor. When the insulation of
these loops has been compromised, water or other ground conditions can
short out these sensor loops, yielding them ineffective. When a gate service
provider works on a gate, it is essential to verify that all of the safety
devices for that gate are functioning to their maximum potential. Threshold
beams, magnetic loops, and auto reverse functions need to be checked regularly.
Power outages can affect the motor controls, therefore back up batteries
and charging systems all need routine maintenance verification. Control
modules for various sensory and motive functions need to be checked for
appropriate operations as well. The speed and force that the gate travels
is a field adjustable condition. It is critical that these speed and force
controls meet or exceed the manufacturer's recommendations.
Mike Panish has been the retained fence and gate expert for numerous cases
throughout the United States. Mr. Panish is frequently retained by both
plaintiff and defense to provide an unbiased and concise analysis of the
site conditions that have led to the case claim. Mr. Panish has had over
35 years of experience providing and installing all types of security
gates and enclosures for commercial, residential, and institutional usage.
His company has been contracted to design and install sally ports and
security walls for penal institutions, security access ports for industrial
buildings, and many other services pertaining to gated and restricted
access environments in medical and laboratory facilities. One of his primary
areas of expertise pertains to automatic door and gate operator defect claims.
Other Gate Articles by Michael Panish
Automatic Entry Gates - Personal Injury & Damage Claims By Michael Panish
Mike Panish has authored
many articles on the subject of door and gate related claims and maintenance issues related to automatic portal systems. He is licensed
as a door and security hardware contractor in the State of California.
He has been the retained expert witness for automatic door and gate cases
across the United States. Mike is able to quickly ascertain the facts,
explain the critical information pertaining to your case, and can assist
you in developing your case from discovery through trial. Mike Panish
has offices in California, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. He is available
for nationwide inspection, analysis, and testimony. Michael Panish can
be reached at (888) 902-4272 (Sharon) www.ConstructionWitness.com