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Beware of Res Ipsa Loquitur (NY)

November 1, 2019

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In <a href="http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_07722.htm"><em>Orgina Carter v. New York City Housing Authority</em></a>, the court addressed the applicability of res  ipsa loquitur in the context of elevator accidents.  Specifically, in <em>Orgina</em>, the plaintiff claimed she was injured while attempting to exit an elevator that malfunctioned and unexpectedly closed on her hand while she was in the defendant's building. According to the plaintiff, the elevator had been within the exclusive control of the defendant.

In response to the plaintiff's claim, the defendant moved for summary judgment, which the Appellate Division, First Department determined was properly denied by the lower court, as the defendant had failed to establish, as a matter of law, that res ipsa loquitur was inapplicable to this case.

The court explained, in order for this doctrine to apply: 1) the event must be of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone's negligence; 2) it must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; and 3) it must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on part of the plaintiff.  In denying the defendant's motion for summary judgment, the court reasoned that elevator malfunctions give rise to the possible application of res ipsa loquitur to prove negligence. The court also found that there were disputed issues regarding the defendant's control and whether the plaintiff's own actions may have affected the instrumentality involved in the accident. Lastly, the court reasoned that proof of notice of a dangerous condition may be presumed under the doctrine of res ipsa even where the defendant contended that it did not have notice of the dangerous condition alleged.

This decision serves as a reminder that New York plaintiffs tend to raise the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in elevator malfunction matters and this may be a difficult claim to beat on summary judgment in a New York court.

Thank you to Caitlin Larke for her contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:chayes@wcmlaw.com">Colleen E. Hayes</a> with any questions.

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