Court Permits Premises Liability Case to Proceed After Applying the Res Ipsa Loquitor Doctrine

A state appellate court recently released an opinion in a case discussing the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor as it relates to personal injury matters. Res ipsa loquitor is a Latin phrase that roughly translates to “the thing speaks for itself.” The doctrine may apply in some Florida personal injury cases where the exact cause of a plaintiff’s injury is unknown, but the nature of the accident is such that it would not likely have occurred absent the defendant’s negligence.

The Res Ipsa Loquitor Doctrine

Res ipsa loquitor is an old common-law doctrine that allows for the judge or jury to infer a defendant’s negligence from the surrounding circumstances. For the doctrine to apply, Florida courts require the plaintiff to establish three elements. First, the plaintiff must show that the instrumentality that caused the plaintiff’s injuries was in the sole control of the defendant. Second, that the accident resulting in the plaintiff’s injuries would likely not have happened absent the defendant’s negligence. And finally, that no direct proof of negligence is available.

The Case’s Facts

This case involved a woman who was injured as she was exiting an elevator in the defendant condominium complex. According to the court’s opinion, the woman was exiting the elevator when the doors to the elevator suddenly closed on her. The plaintiff filed a personal injury case against the condo complex, asserting claims under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor.

There was testimony from both sides as to what caused the plaintiff’s several injuries. The plaintiff’s expert opined that the elevator’s safety features were not working correctly. Indeed, a few days after the accident the city inspector determined that the elevator’s “electric eye” needed repair. The condo complex presented an expert witness who testified that the elevator was maintained correctly at the time of the accident, and the elevator doors most likely closed on the plaintiff because she failed to exit the elevator quickly enough.

The trial court rejected the plaintiff’s assertion that res ipsa loquitor applied under these circumstances because malfunctioning elevator doors do not ordinarily bespeak negligence. The plaintiff appealed.

During the appeal, the case was reversed in favor of the plaintiff. The appellate court held that “common experience instructs that elevator doors – however complex their operation may be – ordinarily should not strike a person entering or exiting an elevator in the absence of negligence.” The court opined that it was not the plaintiff’s burden to exclude all other possible causes of the accident. Instead, she must prove “that it is more probable than not that the defendant’s negligence was a proximate cause of the mishap.” Here, the court determined that the plaintiff met that burden and that her case should proceed towards trial.

Have You Been Injured on Another’s Property?

If you or someone you love has recently been injured on the property of another, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a South Florida premises liability lawsuit. The dedicated injury lawyers at the law firm of Friedman Rodman & Frank have decades of combined experience bringing all types of personal injury claims, including Florida slip-and-fall cases. To learn more, call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Holds That Police Department May Be Liable for Officer’s Failure to Use Due Care While Responding to an Emergency, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published November 6, 2018.

Court Permits Car Accident Plaintiff to Proceed with Both Respondeat Superior and Negligent Entrustment Theory, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published October 25, 2018.

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