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NY Appellate Division Applies Res Ipsa Doctrine to Falling Ceiling Tile

December 3, 2009

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In Jappa v. Starett City, Inc., the plaintiff was walking in the lobby of a building owned by the defendant when a tile fell from the ceiling and struck her in the head. The defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that it did not have actual or constructive notice of the alleged ceiling defect. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion. The defendant appealed.
The Appellate Division, Second Department, held that the defendant established that it had no actual or constructive notice of a defective condition in the ceiling. The Court also held that the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to the defendant’s actual or constructive notice. However, the Court affirmed the decision of the lower court. The Court stated that tiles falling from a ceiling was not an ordinary occurrence in the absence of negligence. Because the ceiling was under the defendant’s exclusive control and no negligence was attributable to the plaintiff, the Court held that there was a basis for liability under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor, which allows a plaintiff to use circumstantial evidence to meet its burden of proof in negligence cases. The Court reasoned that the defendant failed to negate the applicability of res ipsa loquitor and denied the motion.
Thanks to Brad Thelander for his contribution to this post.
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