April 26th, 2008

Not for the elevator-phobic

Don’t read this if elevators give you the heebie jeebies, or you may never get into one again.

Actually, the New Yorker article—which describes the ordeal (there’s no other word for it) of Nicholas White, a man who was stuck in an elevator in the McGraw-Hill office building in New York City for forty-one long hours back in 1999—has a lot of praise for that mode of transportation, one of the safest ever. And it’s true that Nicholas lived to tell his tale. And to sue.

He can’t disclose the amount of the award he got when the case was settled out of court, but:

The lawsuit he filed, for twenty-five million dollars, against the building’s management and the elevator-maintenance company, took four years. They settled for an amount that White is not allowed to disclose, but he will not contest that it was a low number, hardly six figures.

While I think that sometimes litigation results in ridiculously high awards to victims, in my humble opinion this is a case of the opposite. White should have gotten a lot more money.

Towards the end of his New Yorker piece, author Nick Paumgarten states that White’s choice to quit his job and pursue litigation was a strategic one, in order to claim mental suffering and extreme repercussions from the incident. And while it’s true that some people would undoubtedly bounce back from such an experience, I’m pretty sure that would be the exception rather than the rule.

White’s mental (and some physical) pain and suffering included severe thirst, claustrophobia, and the dawning realization that rescue was not coming in a timely fashion and that he might very well die there—while several security guards came and went and all utterly failed to notice White’s plight, even though the entire ordeal was recorded and broadcast to them on the security cameras they were supposed to be monitoring.

Read the article and tell me what you think.

And the New Yorker has kindly posted the video of White’s ordeal on You Tube. The fact that the entire forty-one hours are condensed into three minutes make it less than compelling as a testament to Wright’s agony, but here it is anyway:

17 Responses to “Not for the elevator-phobic”

  1. Hamp, your fellow therapist Says:

    Your articles begin so provocatively, have good middle sections, then seem to drift off into nowhere. This is a curious piece, but I hope you keep writing, you raise good questions. May you end up on a stalled elevator with Michelle or Jerimiah.

  2. Vince P Says:

    I work in the Sears Tower.. my coworkers and I have the greatest fear of being in one of the express elevators and getting stuck on a floor that has no door. Oh wait, thats the 2nd greatest fear.. the greatest fear is dying in the elevator as some consequence from a terrorist attack.

    It says this guy went on a cigrette break.. he should have started a fire in the elevator, that would have gotten him attention.

  3. John Russell Says:

    I tried to read the article and tell you what I thought just because you asked so nicely. Couldn’t do it. I don’t really want to repair, or design, or install elevators and it was looking like I’d be able to if I read the whole article.

  4. Barb Says:

    *** The fact that the entire forty-one hours are condensed into three minutes make it less than compelling as a testament to Wright’s agony…***

    I disagree. I was getting ansy at around the 1:30 mark.

  5. Vince P Says:

    Didn’t the guy have to go pee or crap the whole time?

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    I saw an interview with him that said he got so dehydrated he didn’t have to do much of either (he was sweating profusely the whole time). But he was able to open the elevator door to pee when he had to.

  7. Sergey Says:

    What strange elevators are built there in America. In every elevator in Moscow there is a button of two-way voice communication with dispatcher on duty, and I many times was rescuted from stalled elevator by a service team. They arrive in ten minutes.

  8. Vince P Says:

    I think most elevators in the US also have panic buttons. I’m pretty sure there is a specifc fire button.

    What I suspect is that the building management staff was incompetent and not monitoring the communications with the elevators.

  9. camojack Says:

    I got stuck in an elevator once; I climbed out the hatch in the top and opened the doors on the floor above…

  10. neo-neocon Says:

    camojack: He tried that. The hatch was locked from the inside.

  11. Ymarsakar Says:

    It says this guy went on a cigrette break.. he should have started a fire in the elevator, that would have gotten him attention.

    He would also have suffocated had nobody come within a few minutes. Which given the incompetence of the guards, was highly likely.

  12. Artfldgr Says:

    he was lucky he had lights

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    That’s it, Artfldgr, look on the bright side.

  14. Traverz Says:

    “I got stuck in an elevator once; I climbed out the hatch in the top and opened the doors on the floor above…”

    The full article on this situation posted why that is a really bad idea…if the elevator was to have started back up again while you were mid-move…oh, that’s not good.

    Neither is 41 hours in an elevator…and I suppose the risk of leaping would make perfect sense when sanity starts to be elusive!

  15. camojack Says:

    neo-neocon Says:
    camojack: He tried that. The hatch was locked from the inside.

    Ah. Well, I didn’t read the linked article, just your post. :oops:

    Traverz Says:
    The full article on this situation posted why that is a really bad idea…if the elevator was to have started back up again while you were mid-move…oh, that’s not good.

    I was able to use the phone in the elevator; they told me how to get the doors open on the next floor once I’d climbed through the hatch…

  16. Dan Says:

    The article doesn’t really touch on why he chose the trial attorney-led lottery for a multi-million dollar settlement rather than write the book, do the talk shows (can you spell O-P-R-A-H?). It’s a pity, really, that he allowed his career and job prospects to go down the toilet.

  17. Ymarsakar Says:

    This is why cellphones are for emergencies and also why they don’t work in certain buildings.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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