Res ipsa loquitur is a legal doctrine that holds that a defendant may be presumed negligent if it had exclusive control of the instrumentality of the injury, if the incident would not occur in the absence of negligence, and the plaintiff did not contribute to the accident.
A New York court recently considered whether res ipsa loquitur applied in Bonacci v Brewster Serv. Sta., Inc. The plaintiff was injured when his vehicle fell off a lift at a service station. The plaintiff was in the bay of the garage with a service station employee, and both men were injured when the vehicle fell.
The injured man and his wife filed suit against the service station and moved for summary judgment on the ground that res ipsa loquitur applied. The plaintiff pointed to testimony by the defendant’s principal that the accident could not have occurred in the absence of negligence and that the plaintiff’s presence in the bay could not have caused the incident. The principal did not see the accident but was working in an office nearby and heard the crash. He testified that the vehicle had been “set up wrong” due to “operator error” or mechanical failure.
The defendant argued there were signs warning customers that they were not allowed in the area where the plaintiff was standing. The defendant also argued that the principal’s testimony was mere speculation because he had not seen the accident, so it should not be considered an admission.
The plaintiffs responded that the defendant’s employee had asked the plaintiff to stand under the vehicle to show the employee the problem with the exhaust system. The plaintiff was only under the vehicle for a few seconds before it fell.
The court noted that summary judgment on the basis of res ipsa loquitur is rare and should only occur when “the inference of defendant’s negligence is inescapable.” New York courts use a three-prong test to determine if res ipsa loquitur applies. First, the accident must be a type that ordinarily would not occur absent negligence. Second, the cause of the accident must be within the defendant’s exclusive control. Finally, the accident cannot be the result of the plaintiff’s voluntary action or contribution.
The court found that the vehicle fell from the lift due to negligence. The court pointed to the testimony of the defendant’s principal, finding it was an admission, based on the principal’s 33 years of experience running the station. The court further found that the defendant’s employee had exclusive control of the lift and the placement of the vehicle on it. Finally, the court found that the plaintiff had not contributed to the accident, since the only action he took was standing in the bay at the invitation of the defendant’s employee.
The court therefore found that res ipsa loquitur applied in this case and granted a partial summary judgment to the plaintiff as to liability.
Res ipsa loquitur is rarely applied, and as noted by the court, it is most commonly seen in medical malpractice cases. This case shows, however, that it can be applied outside a medical malpractice context. Our New York personal injury attorney has a thorough understanding of New York tort law, including res ipsa loquitur. If you have been injured by someone else’s negligence, we can help you.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
More Blog Entries:
New York Court Denies Defense Summary Judgment Motion When Plaintiff’s Testimony Raised Issues of Negligence and Causation, April 22, 2016, New York City Personal Injury Lawyer Blog
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