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Thousands Of Elevators Found Running With Expired Permits

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — With a hidden camera at South Coast Plaza we found an elevator-inspection permit that had expired two years ago in 2009. At County-USC Medical Center we found an elevator permit that had expired more than a year ago. In fact we found expired permits all around L.A.

Even though the elevators are supposed to be inspected every year, we found permits in elevators well past the deadline and there are tens of thousands of expired permits statewide. It's a potential for a hazard.

Robert Krieger, a former state inspector, who now runs his own company, said that the annual inspections are mandated by the state to make sure the machines are meeting minimum standards for safety.

"If the equipment isn't maintained, it starts to break down and, eventually someone gets hurt," Krieger said.

Or just stuck, like what happened to quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Matt Lienart in a USC elevator in April.

Cal/OSHA is in charge of making sure that 92,000 elevators are working properly in California. The City of Los Angeles inspects its own elevators -- about 25,000 of them.

But we found that both agencies have fallen behind, claiming they are understaffed. Critics claim inspectors are doing a poor job, leading to problems.

"I was propelled forward and landed on my left forehead on a cement floor," said Joyce Gorman of Yorba Linda, describing an incident in 2008 that left her with two black eyes and broken bones.

Gorman was on her daily commute to her nursing job at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital when she got into an elevator at the MTA subway stop at Vermont and Sunset.

"It lurched up. And it lurched up with a lot of force," Gorman recalled.

The elevator jerked up and down. When it stopped the door opened, but she did not know that it was not even with the ground. When Gorman stepped out, she fell forward hitting the pavement.

"The eye bones around the eye, they couldn't put them back together, I have a metal mesh in my eye keeping my eye in place," she said.

Gorman sued the elevator repair company.

At the time the elevator permit had been up to date, but her attorney said that OSHA could never produce any documentation to back up the inspection.

David Goldstein: "What does that tell you about the whole inspection process?"

"It's poor. It's terrible. And it hurts people like it did in this case," Gorman said who settled out of court.

Now three years later, we checked that same elevator -- the permit had expired March 18, 2010.

We obtained the state's database of elevator inspections and found that out of almost 92,000 elevators statewide, more than 28,000, nearly one-third, have expired permits -- some expired for more than two years ago.

Dean Fryer with Cal/OSHA claimed that they are only about six-months behind, but we told him what we found with our undercover cameras.

"OK, well clearly then there is an issue there that has to be addressed," Fryer said.

Cal/OSHA said they only have 67 elevator inspectors statewide and with a current hiring freeze, they said that it is hard to catch up.

"They need to do a better job is what they need to do," said California Assemblyman Mike Morrell of Rancho Cucamonga.

Morrell is the Vice Chair of the state committee that oversees OSHA. He said it is unacceptable.

"It appears they're not being as efficient and effective with taxpayer money and the safety of citizens as they should be," Morrell said.

He said he is pushing to get the inspections up to date.

State officials said passengers should not be alarmed if they are riding in an elevator with an expired permit. But if you want to play safe, there's always the stairs.

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