Breaking: $30M Lawsuit Imminent in S.F. Elevator Death Case

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Dr. Dan Kliman
The mother of a man who mysteriously fell to his death last year in a San Francisco elevator shaft is set to file a $30 million wrongful death lawsuit tomorrow in San Francisco Superior Court, naming the owner, manager, and elevator service company of the Sharon Building on 55 New Montgomery.

"The logic of suing those people is ... they are the most likely culprits," explained San Franciscan Ian Zimmerman, the attorney for Dan Kliman's mother, Edith, of Schenectady, NY. "As far as I can tell, with the very limited information I have in front of me, I believe the evidence is pointing in the direction of a negligently maintained and serviced elevator."

Interestingly, Zimmerman's pending suit names the owners of the Sharon Building as Scott and Elisa Stephens -- the scions of the Academy of Art University empire*. The management company is Coast Counties Management, Inc and the elevators are serviced by Kone Elevator Company.

Dr. Dan Kliman, an Alameda general practitioner active in San Francisco pro-Israel and gay rights causes, was found dead at the bottom of the Sharon Building's elevator shaft after Thanksgiving of last year. A number of Kliman's fellow pro-Israel activists immediately assumed he was the victim of a cabal of anti-Zionist murderers -- a possibility Zimmerman is not yet ready to discard.  

Zimmerman admitted the possibility of foul play was "improbable" -- but, then, so was the likelihood of Kliman falling to his death after prying his way out of a stuck elevator, the operating theory of the San Francisco Police Department.

"We've got forensic evidence pointing toward a tragic accident," Inspector Matt Krimsky told SF Weekly at the time. "There is no evidence of foul play whatsoever. Underscore that, bold it and print it with an exclamation point."

The Medical Examiner's report on Kliman's death noted "multiple defects" in the latch mechanism of the elevator the doctor rode in.

Zimmerman says there are only two possibilities: Foul play or a faulty elevator. And without examining a multitude of documents that may prove the latter, he cannot disprove the former.

"One of the reasons I'm filing this lawsuit as quickly as I am is the only way I'm going to get [data such as elevator repair records] is through subpoena," he said. "I have to name the parties I think as a matter of good faith are reasonably responsible -- though we don't know for certain. Then I have to march like Sherman through Atlanta, do our due diligence, do our depositions, and track every record down."

*NOTE: While Elisa and Scott Stephens are named as the owners of 55 New Montgomery in the lawsuit, a spokeswoman for Academy of Art University subsequently claimed that the Stephens family is in no way connected with the building -- and never has been. SF Weekly's trip to the Assessor's office revealed the owner of the building to be Robert Bernheim and Nancy Bernheim Rogers in conjunction with the Bernheim Family Trust.

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