TORONTO – An unapologetic ThyssenKrupp Canada was fined $375,000 on Tuesday, as the prosecution had urged, for a potentially fatal breach of elevator safety laws in which a man was injured.
In passing sentence, Ontario court Judge Mindy Avrich-Skapinker said the Crown’s request for the “really low” fine – well short of the maximum $2 million – had caught her off guard.
“When I first heard what the Crown was asking, I was totally surprised,” Avrich-Skapinker said. “I totally expected the Crown to ask for a significantly higher fine.”
The judge said she was more than impressed with the prosecution’s “generosity” given ThyssenKrupp’s status as a leader in the elevator field and part of a multinational conglomerate that rakes in about $60 billion a year – about $470 million of that in Canada.
Nevertheless, the judge ultimately decided the $375,000 was “totally fair” and reasonable and gave the company six months to pay.
After a 25-day trial, Avrich-Skapinker found ThyssenKrupp guilty in December of four offences that stemmed from an incident in July 2009, when an elevator in a west-end Toronto condominium plunged just as a man stepped inside, trapping his foot. Horrified bystanders on board were able to pull him in and prevent a worse situation but the man’s ankle was severely gashed.
“The person caught in the situation can literally be sheared or cut,” Avrich-Skapinker said, adding the public must be able to ride an elevator “without fear of serious injury or even death.”
Investigators faulted a badly worn main drive sheave – a critical part that holds the lift in place – likely the most serious of elevator hazards. Evidence was that ThyssenKrupp had failed to address the problem despite a request from one of its mechanics to repair or replace the part, and several written and verbal complaints from the building manager.
Two of the four charges were stayed at the Crown’s request – resulting in convictions on two counts.
In arguing for a minimum $50,000 fine on each count, ThyssenKrupp’s lawyer tried to portray the Canadian subsidiary as a relatively small player that had already paid a steep price for the mishap – an argument the judge called “somewhat disingenuous” given its size and reach.
“We are clearly dealing with a company here that is a leader in the elevating field,” the judge said in her oral reasons.
Avrich-Skapinker said she was “delighted” to hear ThyssenKrupp had implemented a software program designed to deal with the internal communications problems she identified in finding the company guilty, but said ThyssenKrupp had not offered any apologies for behaviour the Crown branded as “egregious.”
“I have not seen what I would call remorse,” Avrich-Skapinker said.
The company, which at times has tried to blame the victim for what happened, tried again Tuesday to deflect blame.
“We continue to believe a key factor giving rise to the incident was another elevator provider did not follow engineering and regulatory standards in the work they performed prior to the accident,” ThyssenKrupp North America said in a statement sent to The Canadian Press.
The company also said it disagreed with the judgment and fine and was considering the merits of an appeal.
Crown lawyer Kelly Hart said the $375,000 fine requested for the first-time offender was a balancing act – and noted it was still one of the largest of its kind levied in Ontario.
Roger Neate, a director with the Technical Standards and Safety Authority that regulates elevators, called ThyssenKrupp’s failure to properly maintain the device “irresponsible and dangerous.” The fine, he said, should serve as a message to both ThyssenKrupp and the broader elevator industry.
“Any failure to properly maintain elevators will face the full force of the law,” Neate said. “Maintenance requirements are the cornerstone of safety and failure to comply with those requirements puts the elevator riding public at severe risk.”
In July last year, The Canadian Press reported on widespread concerns about worsening elevator reliability and safety across Canada. Several observers blamed the situation on the handful of multinationals, including ThyssenKrupp, that control the industry.