By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Tameka Ellis was a 24-year-old pharmacy technician delivering medication at Texas Children's Hospital on April 8, 2001. As she wheeled her cart off the elevator, the doors slammed, crushing the five-foot-one, 179-pound woman's right side. She was trapped for more than three hours.
"For three hours she thought she was about to be split in half," says Houston attorney Diana Marshall. "Either up or down. Depending on which way the elevator might decide to move." Marshall says Ellis lost all hope of ever getting out of the elevator. She disassociated from her body and felt like she was watching herself die.
Eventually, elevator maintenance workers were able to push Ellis backward, inside the elevator cab, which injured her ankle. She had internal bruising, torn muscles, and bones that were crushed, cracked or fractured from her shoulder to her ankle. She has had knee surgery and needs shoulder surgery.
Marshall contends that the elevator safety systems that could have prevented her client's accident failed.
Otis Elevator's first amended original answer to the lawsuit says that the accident was "solely caused by the plaintiff's negligence and carelessness."
As in most lawsuits reviewed by the Houston Press, the defense was that the person riding the elevator is the one at fault. The elevator company's lawyers told Marshall there was nothing wrong with the elevator, it was brand-new and working well. "They claim it operated properly," Marshall says. "They're very proud of the elevator."
The trial is set for January.
Ellis constantly cries, shakes and can't speak clearly, her attorney says. Depositions for the case have to be taken in one-story buildings because Ellis won't go near an elevator.
She used to have enough money to have her hair styled and her nails regularly manicured. Now that she's living on disability, she doesn't have the cash and her face is puffy from medication, Marshall says. Ellis carries in her purse a picture of herself before the accident. She pulled it out during a deposition, showed it to her attorney and started crying. "I used to be pretty," she told her attorney. Marshall told her she was still pretty. "She said, 'No, I'm not Tameka anymore. And I'm sure not pretty.' " -- Wendy Grossman