An escalator failure at a shopping mall in Bellevue, WA, that led to an accident causing seven injuries was found to be the result of poor maintenance practices and violations of state code.

The accident, which occurred in 2012, highlights the importance of regular public-use escalator maintenance and inspection by trained and certified escalator repair and maintenance professionals.

The cause of the accident was found to be due to loose bolts, screws and brackets that allowed a skirt panel to come loose and jam against the escalator steps, causing the chain to break. The escalator’s safety systems also failed to stop the machinery, and it was ultimately halted when a passerby pressed the manual stop button.

An investigation determined that the escalator had a history of operating issues, such as vibrating, shaking, making grinding noises and emitting smoke. Following the four-month investigation by the Washington Department of Labor and Industry, the state issued citations for 32 code violations, 15 of which were directly related to the accident.

“This is a public safety issue,” declared the director of the state’s L&I department. “We will hold this company accountable for its maintenance responsibilities.”

After several years of litigation, a state appeals court ruled that the owners, in this case, a department store and the mall’s owner, could be found liable for the passenger injuries under “common carrier” legal models, and that it could not delegate that liability to the maintenance contractor.

State or local agencies responsible for regular safety inspection of escalators are often understaffed and behind schedule, but that does not relieve equipment owners and operators of their maintenance and inspection duties.

The Washington shopping mall accident highlights the fact that there is no substitute for close attention, regular safety checks and maintenance as set by recognized industry standards and followed by responsible maintenance contractors.