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Plaintiffs Relying on the Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur Must Establish That Their Own Conduct Was Not the Cause of Their Injuries

By on August 11, 2022 in Negligence with 0 Comments

By: Patrick J. Graham, Esq.

Editor: Betsy G. Ramos, Esq.

Plaintiff, Gladys Bednarko, sued Defendant, Ben’s Bagel Barn after she was hit on the back of her right foot by Defendant’s front door that she alleged closed “too fast” behind her. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that upon leaving Defendant’s store front, she pushed open the front door just far enough to take one step out with her left foot and when she let go of the door, it closed, striking her right foot and causing injuries. After a corresponding lawsuit and on appeal, the New Jersey Appellate Division in Bednarko v. Ben’s Bagel Barn, 2022 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1011 (App. Div. June 8, 2022) was tasked with determining whether an inference of negligence arose under these circumstances pursuant to the common law doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

Plaintiff’s complaint after the accident alleged that Defendant negligently maintained the door at issue and, alternatively, that defendants were negligent under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. In support of her claims, Plaintiff submitted an expert engineering report, which opined, nearly two years after the accident, that Defendant’s door closed approximately two seconds faster than the threshold amount of time enumerated in 36 C.F.R. § 1191 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Following the accident and initiation of Plaintiff’s case, a representative for the Defendant storefront testified that there were no reports of prior issues with this particular door, but that on occasions of heavy winds, the door would sometimes open widely and strike a railing just outside the doorway. To prevent the glass door from being damaged, Defendants covered the railing in towels to soften any potential contact.

Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that Plaintiff had not established the existence of a dangerous condition of which Defendant had actual or constructive notice, which was fatal to Plaintiff’s negligence claim. The Court agreed, finding that Plaintiff failed to meet her burden of proof and that the towels on the railing outside of the door were not notice of a dangerous condition, but rather, were put in place in the event of heavy winds and had no connection to the door closing too fast. The Court also declined to apply the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur because Plaintiff could not establish that when she exited, her injury was not the result of her own act of negligence.

On appeal, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court’s decision and found that Plaintiff failed to establish that Defendant had either actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition of the premises. Therefore, Summary Judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissing Plaintiff’s negligence claim was affirmed.

Further, the Appellate Division also rejected Plaintiff’s negligence claim relying on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Specifically, as a part of her claim, Plaintiff was required to prove that “there is no indication in the circumstances that the injury was the result of the plaintiff’s own voluntary act or neglect.” In affirming the trial court’s grant of Summary Judgment in favor of Defendant, the Appellate Division found that Plaintiff conceded that she did not open the door all the way and instead, opened it “just far enough” to step out with one foot. In so conceding, the Court believed that a reasonable jury could find plaintiff caused or contributed to her injuries. By not opening the door all the way, Plaintiff may have contributed to her injuries, which was fatal to her res ipsa loquitur argument.

With these findings, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court and affirmed Summary Judgment in favor of Defendant.

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 30 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020-2023, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

*No aspect of this advertisement has been submitted to or approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

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