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A mother's tale: escalator amputates four fingers
  1. Claire Adamson
  1. 1812 Baile, Montreal, PQ H3H 1P4, Canada
  1. Correspondence to:
 Mrs Adamson
 (e-mail: adamsonclaire{at}

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Her hand would not come out. It was sucked in more and more. It happened on the 8th of September 1989. I had never heard of anyone being injured in the space at the side of an escalator step before. As I later discovered, however, these gaps had been injuring nearly one person a month in Montreal alone.

Thea is our second daughter so we had experience caring for toddlers. Our children were watched continuously in our “baby-proofed” house. We live downtown and have never owned a car. Instead we travel by Metro, bus, or on foot. When, at 18 months, Thea became too heavy for a “snuggly” we began to use a stroller on outings.

On this occasion, being age 2, she did not want to go in the stroller as we approached the escalator. She could walk well and her independent nature made her decide to travel on foot. Thea was carrying a bag of raisins but dropped the bag on the escalator step. When she went to pick it up, her hand went into the space between the step and the balustrade (side) of the escalator. This space was 5/16 of an inch or more (although the code specifies that it must not exceed 3/16). The razor sharp edge cut into the skin of her hand, catching it. Although the skirt panel is supposed to be treated with a friction reducing material, her hand was locked in. It was pulled in farther as the escalator moved. Someone shouted, “Stop the escalator!” but only after her hand had passed through the step did it stop. I held her hand together with one hand and picked her up with the other arm.


Her hand was so badly crushed it could not be reattached. I wished the injury had happened to me instead. She had her whole life to live.

Because the side of the step space exceeded the standard described by the Canadian Standards Association, we decided to press charges. We felt that unless someone acted, this dangerous condition could injure another child. Our expert witness was an escalator consultant, who wrote specifications for escalator and elevator installations. After interrogating the Transit Commission's engineers, we discovered that there had been problems with these escalators since their installation in 1967. Our lawyer asked questions about every document the Transit Commission supplied. This included a file box full of incident reports for the preceding 10 years. We had to pay $1000 per month to the lawyer to pursue our case as well as $10 000 as a retainer. The trial finally took place seven years after the injury.

The judge had read our disposition carefully, and asked good questions. I was present for all 11 days of the trial. We showed a video about the plates fixed to the side of escalator steps, and the other side showed one about escalator safety—not yet shown in schools. We were allowed to have witnesses who were also injured on Metro escalators. Thea appeared on the second last day. She answered questions clearly, and did not hesitate when asked to approach the judge to show her hand and a prosthetic glove. In the settlement, Thea received interest for the time before the trial, almost doubling her compensation to a total of over $600 000.

Equally important, many escalators are now improved, though they are still not as safe as they could be. Before Thea's injury only 29 of the 120 Montreal Metro escalators met code standards. Most were an unsafe model from England in which steps are attached in such a way that they are able to float from side to side. This movement pushes the balustrades apart and adjustment has to be made frequently. The Metro knew about this problem and six years before Thea's injury had started to clamp the steps in position. Newer stations use safer models, now popular in London and Paris.

If Thea had been buckled into a stroller, she would probably still have her hand today. But apart from her preference to walk, the Canadian Standards Association disapproves of stroller use on escalators, arguing that their wheels could become caught in the combplate. This was realistic when combplates had 1 inch wood teeth, but I cannot imagine how a modern day wheel could get caught in a modern day escalator. Another reason given for this regulation is that a parent might allow the stroller to fall down the escalator. But when the pride of your life is in your hands, it is unlikely that you would allow it to escape from your grip.

Sadly, I am now more aware of other dangers in our everyday lives. Every injury can be and should be prevented. I have requested that the maximum space at the side of the steps be further reduced and have asked that stroller use on escalators be reviewed. I have asked that all transit passengers be warned about escalator risks. Information pamphlets should be distributed to daycare centres, schools, and hospitals. Toddlers, teens, and seniors still remain high risk passengers for escalators. No one else should have to lose a hand before they are made safer.

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