Two officers settle lawsuit over injuries in 2013 elevator accident at Criminal Justice Center

Two Philadelphia police officers injured in a 2013 elevator accident at the city’s Criminal Justice Center — three years before an elevator crash there paralyzed a sheriff’s deputy — have settled their lawsuit against the company that maintains city buildings and its elevator subcontractor.

The lawsuit by Grace Gardner and Robert Lucini against U.S. Facilities Inc. and Schindler Elevator Corp. was supposed to have gone to trial before a jury on Wednesday before Common Pleas Court Judge Linda Carpenter.

John A. Manes Jr., the lawyer for Gardner and Lucini, did not return phone messages requesting comment.

H. David Seidman, a lawyer for U.S. Facilities, said Thursday that the company had always denied liability in the 2013 accident.  “U.S. Facilities was not the principal party involved in the settlement and has no further comment,” he said.

Court documents filed in the case show that because Schindler had the contract to maintain and repair the elevators, the company agreed to shoulder the defense in the case and its lawyers were responsible for the settling the case.

Lauren Michelle Steins, the attorney for Schindler, could not be reached for comment.  It was not known whether the settlement will be made public.

U.S. Facilities, based in Philadelphia, specializes in operating and maintaining governmental and institutional buildings around the country. Schindler was its subcontractor, responsible for elevator maintenance repairs at the Criminal Justice Center and other city buildings.

Both companies have come under scrutiny following the Aug. 4, 2016, accident at the Criminal Justice Center where an employee elevator suddenly shot upward 15 stories at high speed and crashed through the ceiling at the top of the shaft.

Paul Owens, 49, then a sergeant in the Sheriff’s Department, was the car’s sole passenger, and the crash left him paralyzed below the middle of his chest.

In January, Owens and his wife, Heather, filed suit in Common Pleas Court against the Philadelphia Municipal Authority, the agency that acts as the landlord for city-owned buildings; U.S. Facilities; Schindler; and several other elevator companies.

Their lawsuit contends that since 2012, the defendants have ignored regular complaints about problems with the CJC elevators.

In July, Duilio “Lou” Angelini, the building manager whom U.S. Facilities assigned to the Criminal Justice Center, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against his former employer. It maintains that he continually warned his bosses at U.S. Facilities about lax elevator maintenance and “dummied up” inspection reports at the CJC, and, after the accident, was demoted and fired.

If the parties are not commenting about why the suit was settled at the verge of trial, Angelini’s lawyer, Mark D. Schwartz, said he believes he knows the reason. Angelini had been scheduled to testify for Gardner and Lucini in their trial, Schwartz said, and his testimony would have been damaging.

According to documents filed in the settled case, Gardner, now 55, and Lucini, now 62, were passengers with 13 others in one of the CJC’s public elevators on Dec. 3, 2013.

Car 4A “yo-yoed,” according to the documents, and then stalled between the fifth and sixth floors, trapping the passengers for about 30 minutes.

Rescue personnel were able to open the doors but the passengers had to jump several feet to the fifth floor to get out of the car.

Lucini sprained his back and left knee and leg, and missed work for physical therapy. Gardner sustained injuries to her lower back, neck and right arm and missed months undergoing rehab therapy. Both officers have since returned to work.