Four years after an escalator accident at Giants Stadium seriously injured several people and led to one man losing part of his leg, the company that maintained the escalator reached a settlement Monday midway through the first day of a trial stemming from the incident.
The amount of Schindler's settlement with the eight injured people who sued was not disclosed, and the trial in state Superior Court will continue against the other defendant, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operated Giants Stadium at the time of the Dec. 29, 2007, accident. The accident occurred after a game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.
"The parties have been engaged for quite some time in negotiations, and those negotiations concluded a short time ago," Schindler attorney Ed DePascale said. "The company expresses its sympathy to all the plaintiffs and wishes them the best."
The settlement with Schindler came during Monday's lunch break, after plaintiffs' attorneys had used their opening statements to describe the accident and their clients' injuries in graphic detail, accompanied by pictures of mangled legs and feet. Witnesses have said the escalator sped up, then stopped rapidly, sending people tumbling to the bottom.
Michael Harris of Middlesex had gone to the game with friends and watched the Giants fall short in their attempt to stop the Patriots from finishing an undefeated regular season. Heading down the escalator from the upper level after the game, Harris noticed the escalator speed up but figured he could get off safely if necessary.
"I thought I would jump right off it by the time we got to the bottom, except that when I got to the bottom I couldn't jump — the steps broke apart and swallowed my leg," Harris said outside the courtroom Monday.
Harris went through five surgeries and nearly three years of treatment before having his right leg amputated below the knee in December 2010. Other plaintiffs in court Monday included Joseph Capuano, who has had more than a dozen surgeries and could lose his foot.
The lawsuit accused Schindler of failing to replace a mechanical part on the escalator that it should have known was faulty, and of failing to make required inspections of the escalator. It charged the sports authority with failing to limit the number of people allowed on escalators at one time despite knowing that overloading had likely caused a similar accident at the stadium seven years earlier.
"These plaintiffs were nothing more than guinea pigs, the cost of doing business," attorney Michael Noonan told jurors in his opening statement, referring to Schindler. The 25,000-pound escalator collapsed amid sounds of "snapping steel, twisting steel and shattering limbs," he added.
The sports authority knew that overloading the escalators could cause them to speed up or brake suddenly because of the 2000 accident but did nothing to prevent it, Noonan and fellow attorney Larry Bendesky charged in their opening statements.
Representing the sports authority, attorney Paul Soderman laid the blame on Schindler for not replacing the part, a welded stub shaft, and not adequately inspecting the escalator. He denied claims that the sports authority ignored warnings by Schindler about overloading and said none of the plaintiffs' witnesses would even be able to define what overloading was. Soderman noted that the stadium's other escalators were carrying similar numbers of people that night without problems.
"Nowhere has anybody ever suggested, in letters or in memos, that these escalators were operating that day with too many people on them," he said.
Giants Stadium was torn down in 2010 to make way for MetLife Stadium, shared by the Giants and New York Jets. Harris, who said he works for MetLife, went back to a Giants game in early 2009 at the old stadium and attended New York's win over Atlanta on Sunday in a first-round playoff game in the new stadium. He didn't take the escalator either time.
"I don't go on escalators anymore," he said.
The trial is set to resume Wednesday.