What is Res Ipsa Loquitor?

chair_garden_green_hedge-scaledPersonal injury lawsuits can be complicated, especially when they involve injuries sustained while shopping. Mary Mason found herself in this situation at a Burlington store in Lafayette, Louisiana, when a chair collapsed as she sat on it, causing her to fall and sustain injuries. Despite suing Burlington and claiming negligence, her case was dismissed due to a lack of evidence. This case highlights the importance of having experienced legal counsel to guide you through the lawsuit process. It also answers the question, what is Res Ipsa Loquitor?

Mrs. Mason and her husband visited the Burlington store in Lafayette on Ambassador Caffery Parkway. While Mrs. Mason waited in the car, her husband entered the store. After waiting for some time, Mrs. Mason entered the store to find her husband. As she walked by a chair display, she decided to test out one of the chairs on the platform. Unfortunately, as Mrs. Mason sat down, the chair collapsed, and she fell and hit the platform. She was on the phone with her husband at the time.

A store manager and Mr. Mason entered the area where Mrs. Mason fell. They determined Mrs. Mason’s fall was due to no screws in the chair’s back legs. The store manager removed the faulty chair, so the Masons took photos of it. Mrs. Mason also signed an incident report before leaving the store.

After the incident, Mrs. Mason went to the hospital, where she was given medication and an injection. She later experienced hip, knee, and back problems for which many doctors treated her.

Mrs. Mason sued Burlington. In response, Burlington filed a claim against S.O.L.E. Designs, Inc. (S.O.L.E.), the designer and manufacturer of the chair. In addition, Burlington sought indemnity (compensation based on the wrongs of another) from S.O.L.E. In response to Burlington, S.O.L.E. filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal. Another summary judgment motion was filed by Burlington seeking to dismiss Mrs. Mason’s claims.

The trial court granted Burlington’s summary judgment motion, reasoning that Mrs. Mason did not establish any facts that Burlington had any notice of the defect. The court further reasoned that res ipsa loquitur, or an occurrence that implies negligence, did not apply to these facts either. In addition, the trial court granted S.O.L.E.’s summary judgment motion. Mrs. Mason appealed based on whether the trial court correctly applied the tort theory of res ipsa loquitur.

Res ipsa loquitur is a doctrine under the common law that allows a court to infer negligence from the general nature of the accident or injury sustained by the victim. Put in another way, when the facts of the case tend to show the defendant as the most likely cause of the accident, res ipsa loquitur can, generally, be established. Cangelosi v. Our Lady of the Lake Reg’l Med. Ctr. This doctrine can be defeated if some other reasoning for the incident other than the defendant’s actions is shown.

Three elements must be established for courts to utilize res ipsa loquitur: 1.) The injury should not normally occur in the absence of negligence on someone’s part. 2.) Evidence shows that the plaintiff or any other third party did not cause the injury. 3.) The defendant’s negligence is within their duty to the plaintiff. Linnear v. CenterPoint Energy Entex/Reliant Energy.

Burlington offered deposition evidence that Mrs. Mason admitted she knew the chair was in an area where customers were only supposed to look, not use the furniture. Mrs. Mason further offered that she was unaware of any problems with the chair before sitting. Mrs. Mason’s deposition was the only evidence in the record.

Mrs. Mason argued the chair’s back legs were missing screws; therefore, the court should assume a Burlington employee assembled the chair incorrectly. The court stated this argument was insufficient to apply res ipsa loquitur and to switch the burden back to Burlington. Mrs. Mason never gave clear proof that Burlington assembled the faulty chair or that they had knowledge of the missing screws. There were many explanations for what could have happened to these missing screws. Therefore, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that Mrs. Mason failed to provide adequate reason for the court to apply the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Burlington won their summary judgment motion with all costs of the appeal placed upon Mrs. Mason.

As Mrs. Mason found, personal injury lawsuits are only sometimes as straightforward as they may seem, and injury on a business’s property is not automatic grounds for recovery. Retaining good legal counsel to walk you through the lawsuit process is crucial so you don’t end up like Mrs. Mason.


Written by Berniard Law Firm writer: T.J. Reinhardt

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