OVERHEAD DOOR INJURIES
Commercial, Industrial, Residential,Trucks
By Michael Panish
Door & Door Hardware Expert Witness
Automatic Door Expert Witness
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As the retained expert witness on many overhead door injury and wrongful
death cases, some of the injuries I have seen include injured or severed
fingers and limbs, bodily trauma, and death. Disabling injuries often
lead to involved lawsuits due to the combination of jobsite and employer,
landlord and tenant contractual agreements, and property owner liability
insurance coverage. Knowing who is responsible for maintenance and inspections
of these doorways is essential.
In many jobsite related injury cases, the worker that is injured on the
job is often covered by workmen's compensation insurance. In some
cases there is no workmen's compensation coverage as the injury occurs
to a self-insured person or a family member. In the more complex and often
convoluted cases, indemnification clauses from lease obligations moves
the liability of the injury ultimately upon the tenant in possession of
the accident site, or the employer rather than the property owner.
In most of the cases where I have been the retained expert, the failure
of the overhead door system mechanism is in some way related to the lack
of professional maintenance and routine periodic inspections. In various
cases, there are typically arguments as to which involved party had the
duty to inspect the door systems. Ultimately, the deferred door conditions
led to the injury.
There are a variety of overhead doors that are commonly installed throughout
the country. Overhead doors can be broken down into several categories.
RESIDENTIAL overhead doorways are commonly used in settings such as single family
homes, condominiums, and apartment buildings. The design of these doors
is generally one of two styles. In older residential structures there
are still many single panel overhead pivoting garage doors. In newer residential
construction, it is more typical to encounter a sectional or multi-panel
COMMERCIAL buildings the overhead door systems can be composed of a wide variety
of components and materials. Commercial overhead door systems vary tremendously
in weight and size and are typically built more robustly than most residential
overhead doorways. They are often remotely controlled by sophisticated
Another frequent source of injuries comes from overhead sectional doors
that are installed into
COMMERCIAL TRUCK bodies.
I have been the door expert on injury claims created from many types of
overhead residential, commercial/industrial, and automotive doorways.
In recent months, I have been retained to evaluate numerous injury claims
attributed to commercial overhead doors. In several cases, they have fallen
apart and had the components rain down on a person. Other overhead doors
have dropped in "free fall", and crushed or severed various
body parts. I have seen real time surveillance videos where cars have
driven into security gates which resulted in the doors disengaging from
their track system and collapse onto innocent bystanders. In some cases,
I have been told of multiple doors falling unexpectedly from overhead
perches. People have been seriously injured and even died as a result
of overhead door malfunctions. It is common to see amputation injuries
derived from overhead doors.
LANDLORDS & DEFERRED DOOR MAINTENANCE
When an absentee landlord is responsible for the ongoing maintenance of
a rental property, tenants are sometimes exposed to long term deferred
door systems. In a few recent cases tenants have suffered head and neck
trauma after being struck with a malfunctioning door system. In other
cases body parts have been severed and amputated when door safety devices
were improperly positioned, not functioning correctly, or simply removed
after the original installation. Small children have been maimed from
falling door and spring components and cars parked inside garages have
been damaged when old style door springs have flown from their hinge points.
While commercial and residential overhead door systems can be quite different,
there are often certain similarities in their construction that calls
for regular and periodic maintenance inspections. In the case of any door
system that has a motorized opener, that system should be inspected at
least once a month. It is important to routinely verify that the door
system is properly functioning as intended by the manufacturer. If safety
sensors or pressure activated switches are installed they must also be
inspected for function. Not all door systems require or have safety sensor
beams or impact switches. In many warehouse or commercial installations
an automatic instant reverse mechanism is the safety device. This type
of door controller relies upon resistance input to stop and reverse the
door operation. It is important to assure that the speed of travel of
that type of door system is per manufacturer's specifications.
CHECK THE DOORS
In residential and commercial applications, when electric eye beams are
employed, they need to be frequently checked for proper alignment, focus,
and cleanliness. Auto reverse functions, when present, need to be evaluated
to prevent potential damage or injury due to crushing forces. If a rolling
track system is part of the overhead doorway all rollers, guides, and
tracks need to be clean, lubricated and free of debris that would hinder
door performance which could lead to catastrophic binding. In a commercial
door system, it is important to make sure that all guides, safety systems,
and motor clutches operate correctly. In commercial systems where flashing
lights or audible alarms are in place, they need to be checked for proper
function. Any obstructions that may be adjacent to the doorway must be
removed to assure proper and safe usage of the overhead door system. The
more complex a door system, the more frequently the system should be evaluated.
In some commercial installations, a daily inspection should be made, while
in single occupancy homes, once a month inspections are usually sufficient.
In every door installation, it is essential that the entity in control
of the doorway be aware of the condition of that doorway. If a change
is noticed in the daily operation of the doorway, professional and competent
service providers should be contacted immediately. The doorway should
be thought of as unsafe to use until services are provided by a competent
professional notifying you that the door is safe.
Overhead door systems that use springs to control the door must be adjusted
to maintain a slightly buoyant condition. Generally, a sectional door
should be able to stay unsupported approximately midway in its path of
travel. Very little force should be needed to lift the door from that
position, and the door should not drop suddenly if maintained in a properly
balanced condition. Torsion or tension springs need to be rated for the
specific size and weight of the doorway. When an automatic door operator
is connected to the doorway, it is essential to verify the balance point
between the door and spring adjustment or the automatic operator may not
function properly. In large commercial installations, site specific conditions
may dictate special requirements for appropriate lifting powers needed.
One of the most common reasons that many overhead doors systems malfunction
is related to the control cable used to lift and regulate the balance
of an overhead door. In many injury cases, the cable has become disconnected
from or has been unable to recoil on the spool that allows and controls
the stored spring tension energy used to maintain balance of the door
panels. In some cases, the cable has broken from neglect and fails with
catastrophic results. In other cases, deferred maintenance has created
rusted and frozen components that are attached to those coiled spools,
stopping them from working as designed. Depending upon the amount of usage
(the cycles that the door undergoes in the course of an hour, day, week,
month, or year) preventative maintenance often calls for proactive replacement
of key components of overhead door systems. i.e. bearings, cables, and
roller guides are frequently replaced prior to failing. Torsion springs
are often only replaced when they have failed. But, a good service provider
will suggest routine maintenance parts replacement to keep unexpected
"down time" to a minimum.
It is good business practice on the part of the building owner to know
the condition of the property that is leased to a tenant. When regular
inspections are made by a landlord, it informs both the property owner
and the tenant what repairs are needed and generally improves the safety
of any person entering the premises. Frequent observations of all overhead
doors can improve safety.
All doors on every property, whether manually operated or automatic, should
be inspected on a regular basis. When dealing with door systems used by
the public, they should be inspected on a daily basis. Overhead garage
doors should be routinely checked. Owner's manuals provided by manufacturers
generally suggest that an electric garage operator and door system be
inspected monthly. As previously stated, the more complex a door system
is, the more frequently it should be observed for proper operation.
While there are similarities in most overhead door systems, many installations
include unique and challenging conditions that add to the complexity of
the doorways. It is important to make certain that every door is maintained
in a safe and consistent manner. It is essential to know the condition
of the property that is owned by a landlord, and leased by any tenant.
If all of the parties involved in an occupancy situation fully understand
who is responsible for maintenance and regular routine inspections, and
appropriate repairs are made, then injuries may be kept to a minimum.
Proactive actions will help avoid unwanted injuries.
Michael Panish is the most frequently retained expert witness in the country
for both plaintiff and defense cases involving overhead doors, automatic
doors, and manual door systems. He has a thorough understanding of these
door systems and a hands-on background that provides a basis for his expert
opinions and working expertise. Mr. Panish has been retained on numerous
cases that have quickly resolved after his involvement. He has been brought
into many cases to replace previous experts that were unable to explain
or identify the issues of causation. He has personally serviced, installed,
and maintained major brand door products for many years. He is the author
of many articles that cover most aspects of door components, door hardware,
and door injury claims. Visit his website at
www.constructionwitness.com for a list of relevant articles and to view all of his expert and consulting services.