Automatic Entry Gates – Personal Injury & Damage Claims – Part 2 of 2

What should a property owner know and require when looking for a gate service provider?

Prior to entering into an agreement with a gate service provider, several issues need to be verified to protect the property owners and the end users of the gate.

· As a gate company, does the potential service provider have the needed expertise and ability to determine the overall existing condition of the gate system?

· Is the potential service provider a fence installer that can offer automatic gate service, or a professional automatic gate installer that also provides fencing?

· Does the service provider have qualified personnel that will be able to make repairs and determine that the gate meets all required safety standards at each service?

· Does the service provider work in close proximity to the general area specific to the subject property so that references can be verified as to quality of service, response time, and overall reliability?

· Does the service provider have appropriate liability and workmen’s compensation insurance coverage? Can, or will, the company offer complete indemnification to a property owner or organization if an accident resulting from the gate that is being serviced occurs?

· What type of maintenance is needed?

· What service intervals will be instituted?

· What condition and standards will the gates be maintained to?

· Is every component of the gate system evaluated at every service? If multiple gates are on the property, will all gates be inspected at the time of the service call?

· Will the service technician provide thorough documentation of all service work and recommendations?

· What is the cost associated with every part of the contract?

· Are emergency calls included at a regular rate or is there an increased price?

· How long should the response time be for a needed repair, including the availability of replacement equipment?

· Does the service provider maintain components in-stock relevant to the gate system of the subject location?

· Are any supplemental services required by any other outside source that the gate service provider cannot offer?

In general, any gate contractor that offers an ongoing maintenance program as the sole service provider becomes responsible for many aspects of the gate system. If an organization or owner relies upon that sole service provider, follows all suggestions made by the sole service provider, and agrees to pay for all needed upgrades and repairs, that service provider is considered the responsible entity for gate performance. In the event of an incident that leads to personal injury, wrongful death, or property damage, the owner of the property will probably be held responsible. However, the insurance policy certificate with a designated service provider should include indemnification and ultimate responsibility for the occurrence as part of the relationship agreement between the two parties.

Normally functioning gate equipment causes personal injuries due to improper professional conduct:

In several prior cases, workers in proximity to a swinging or sliding gate operator have become entangled and crushed by the motor controller and the action of the attached motive arm or drive chain mechanisms. In at least three prior cases, gardeners, attempting to trim plants near the gate motor controller were crushed or injured when a remote control device activated the gate motor while they were standing within the path of travel of the gate arm. All three cases occurred within direct visual sight of the motor controller power switch.

In another trade related accident, a plumber was attempting to access sprinkler pipes when he was struck by a moving gate that had been activated remotely from the adjacent residence. The homeowner failed to disable the gate operator, and forgot that the plumber was working within the path of travel of the gate.

An electrician that had previously installed the power to the motor controller failed to provide an emergency local disconnect switch at the time that he hooked up the motor controller. This lack of electrical code compliance actually cost him his right arm. Several years later, the gate began moving as he was working near the gate controller. He was knocked off of his ladder as he was attempting to service a lamp fixture mounted on one of the masonry columns where the gate was hinged. The electrician became tangled in his ladder, and the force of the swinging gate crushed his arm as the ladder fell with him into the operator mechanism.

All of these aforementioned accidents were the result of careless workers near the gate motor controllers. It is well within a reasonable standard of care to have a worker in proximity to any moving device. Knowing that a motor can start without warning means that the worker must positively know that the gate is disabled while they are working in the area. Personally failing to take precautions to assure that the motor controller is deactivated is the direct responsibility of the worker, and indirectly the responsibility of the property owner or the worker’s manager.

In a couple of these claims, the homeowner was found to be responsible, as the workers were directly employed by the homeowner. In the case of the plumber and the electrician, they were independent workers that were responsible for their own actions, and they were found to have contributed to the incident.

In other cases, severe injuries and even deaths have occurred when people were playing around moving gates and control mechanisms. People have become entangled when they have insinuated part of their bodies between fixed structures and moving gate control arms. Due to the required actions of the door controllers, it is essential to have anyone working in the area “lock out” and make

certain that the door controller power is turned off prior to working near the gate and control arm. People have also been run over or dragged by a chain driven gate because the mechanism was not deactivated.

There are no requirements that mandate any fencing or caging to protect someone from a motor controller inadvertently starting, other than labels positioned on the motor controller cautioning people regarding potential movement of the mechanism and gate. In most cases, it is not possible to enclose a motor controller and gate arm to guard against an injury. The gate arm requires a certain path of travel to perform the job that moves the gate. Any restriction or coverage of the control arm would not protect someone if struck by the gate or if improperly positioned between the motor controller and adjacent area because the gate arm must freely move to convey the gate. There are certain types of injuries that occur as a result of poor judgement, inappropriate training or lack of adult supervision.


An elderly woman walking through the vehicle gate in her condo complex

The woman saw a car approach the sliding gate, the gate opened, she attempted to cross from the exterior into the parking garage when the gate rapidly closed and broke her leg. In this case, there were no optical sensors, no activation loops, and the gate motor control was simply used as a timing device. The gate closed rapidly due to inappropriate speed adjustment settings. There were signs pointing out an adjacent pedestrian gate, but the woman failed to understand the information or chose to not heed the provided directional signage. She saw the open vehicle gate, and opted to walk through it. A video camera used for the parking lot security captured the entire incident showing what had happened.

In this claim, the gate service provider had recently worked on the gate, and in an effort to appease the condo board of directors to keep multiple cars from “piggy backing” while entering the parking garage, the repairman had accelerated the closing cycle of the gate, making for an unpredictable and inconsistent closing time. The condo association was found to have been negligent because they had made the decision to alter the normal functions of the gate controller, and the service provider was also found to be responsible due to the obligation to maintain appropriate manufacturer safeguards. The woman that used the vehicular gate instead of the pedestrian access was also found partially responsible for her own injuries.

A condo association hired a local gate and fence company to automate existing entry gates in the complex

From the condition of the equipment at the time of inspection, it was obvious that the motor controller had never been serviced or maintained since the original installation of that equipment. Due to the beach location of the condo complex, the gates and controller deteriorated rapidly, and rust had caused the control arm to bend and change the gate operating functions. The overall deferred condition of the gate system led to a high value vehicle damage claim made by one of the home owners living at the condo complex. Rather than accept the deteriorated condition as the reason for the damage, the homeowner’s association sued the fence company in an effort to transfer responsibility for poor maintenance practices on the part of the condo association. During early discovery, the gate and fence company provided documentation that proved it had offered a service plan to this condo association, had offered to provide routine maintenance, which were declined due to the proposed costs. The service provider was released from the claim after an initial inspection report was submitted.

An apartment resident was exiting an underground parking lot when her vehicle was struck by a rapidly closing overhead gate

There were safety beams in place to protect the opening, and there was another car ahead of her that was waiting for the cross traffic to clear. As the first car exiting left the threshold, the next resident (the subject of this claim) moved into position to await a break in the cross traffic. As she was waiting, the overhead gate descended upon the hood and windshield of her car shattering the glass into the passenger compartment. The event startled the driver, and she stomped on the gas pedal, causing the bottom of the gate, which was now resting inside her car, to travel further into the vehicle, and trapped the woman between the gate and her driver seat. She suffered head and neck injuries and was hospitalized. During expert site inspection, it was determined that the cross threshold beams were inactive. The control wire was cut. The motor controller was not receiving any information from the beams, and as the controller was older, did not have a failsafe device installed that would require that the safety beams were integrated and functioning properly in order to operate. When the door controller timed out, the gate closed as designed. Additionally, the gate motor control was out of adjustment, and the gate closed more rapidly and with greater force than it should have. There was also an improperly functioning automatic reverse function. So, two of the potential safety features (cross threshold beams and an auto reverse mechanism) that would have prevented this incident were missing or broken. The apartment ownership admitted during discovery that the device was old, had not been maintained, and made no attempt to fight the claim.

Man is struck by an overhead garage gate

A man was attempting to exit the garage of his apartment complex by the only egress possible. It was a gate shared by vehicles and pedestrians when leaving the interior side of the parking area. He had pushed the garage controller from his car to activate the gate opener, and was attempting to cross the gate threshold when the gate swung down rapidly.

There were safety beams connected to the motor controller, only they had been installed upon the wall approximately 8 feet above the ground. They were spaced approximately 1 inch apart, so that the beam could not be interrupted. They had been intentionally wired together, facing one another, to allow the gate operator to function. The cross threshold beam sensors had never been installed correctly to protect the threshold of the doorway where they belonged. It was discovered that the original installation of the gate took place many years prior. Nobody from the management of the apartment building had ever checked that cross threshold sensors even existed on this gated opening.

Apparently, in an effort to make the gate operator function, the past installers had failed to properly install the cross threshold beams across the threshold of the gate opening. By hanging them on the wall rather than make the effort to properly position and wire them at ground level the beams had been wasted as the provided safety device. The apartment management was found responsible for the injury due to their lack of inspection of the gate system.

Automatic gates routinely operate on a daily basis across the country. Most automatic gate operators function safely without incident. The manufacturers of the control motors provide a reasonable degree of care to make certain that the operation of their products can be safe for all users. New gate operators are manufactured to industry approved standards, and older operators should be made current standard compliant through repair and maintenance service work. Injuries and property damage that occurs are generally due to improper installation methods, deferred maintenance, or carelessness of individual users. Lack of personal awareness and individual responsibility cannot be overlooked in some injury claims.

There are always extenuating circumstances to every case, and no two cases are completely alike. Reasonable usage of a well maintained automatic gate is generally safe. Poorly maintained gates and automatic motor controllers are generally unsafe.

Workers personal safety is paramount when working adjacent to any motor controlled device. Appropriate lock-out procedures need to be followed around any moving mechanical piece of equipment. Gate and motor control injuries to the general public, whether adult or child should never occur. Personal awareness, vigilance, and supervision should be enough to guard against most types of automatic gate injuries.