Res Ipsa Loquitur Doctrine Can Apply to an Elevator Maintenance Company Even Where there Is No Proof the Company Had Actual or Constructive Notice of Elevator Misleveling
The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Gische, over a two-justice partial dissent, determined that an elevator maintenance company could be liable for a fall allegedly caused by misleveling of an elevator under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, even though there was no evidence the elevator maintenance company had actual or constructive notice of the problem. The plaintiff’s allegations of the misleveling, coupled with the settled principle that elevator misleveling does not occur in the absence of negligence, raised a question of fact under the res ipsa loquitur criteria:
Res ipsa loquitur permits a fact finder to infer negligence based upon the sheer occurrence of an event where a plaintiff proffers sufficient evidence that (1) the occurrence is not one which ordinarily occurs in the absence of negligence; (2) it is caused by an instrumentality or agency within the defendant’s exclusive control; and (3) it was not due to any voluntary action or contribution on the plaintiff’s part … . If a plaintiff establishes these elements, then the issue of negligence should be given to a jury to decide … .
Res ipsa loquitur does not create a presumption of negligence; rather it is a rule of circumstantial evidence that allows the jury to infer negligence … . A defendant is free to rebut the inference by presenting different facts or otherwise arguing that the jury should not apply the inference in a particular case … . Notice of a defect is inferred when the doctrine applies and the plaintiff need not offer evidence of actual or constructive notice in order to proceed … . Thus, while there is no proof of actual or constructive notice in this case, res ipsa loquitur can still support plaintiff’s claim … . Ezzard v One E. Riv. Place Realty Co., LLC, 2015 NY Slip Op 03791, 1st Dept 5-5-15