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Res Ipsa Loquitor Doctrine Not Available to Establish Negligence for Injury Due to Elevator Doors

By on October 20, 2017 in Negligence with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Nadine Ambrico was injured when an elevator door closed on her hand and arm. The elevators were maintained by defendant Thyssenkrupp Elevator Corp. on a monthly basis. The issue in Ambrico v. Thyssenkrupp Elevator Corp., 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2558  (App. Div. October 13, 2017) was whether plaintiff needed an expert to pursue her claim against the elevator company or if she could prove her cause of action based upon the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor.

Plaintiff was injured while at her place of employment, the Camden County Health Services Building when the elevator door closed on her hand and arm. At that time, her employer, the County of Camden, had a contract with the defendant to maintain the elevators in the building and service them as needed. Defendant inspected the elevators on a monthly basis. The elevator company had last inspected the elevator about 6 weeks before the plaintiff’s accident.

Plaintiff did not submit an expert report, instead contending that no expert report was necessary. The defendant filed for a summary judgment on the basis that an expert report was necessary because the manner in which elevator doors operated was beyond the ken of an average juror.

The plaintiff contended that no expert testimony was needed to prove her cause of action because she was proceeding under the theory of res ipsa loquitor (a Latin phrase which means “the thing speaks for itself”). Plaintiff argued that she met the three elements necessary to utilize this doctrine: “(1) the occurrence itself ordinarily bespeaks negligence; (2) the instrumentality causing the injury was within the defendant’s exclusive control and (3) the injury was not caused by plaintiff’s voluntary act or neglect.”

The trial court found that this doctrine could not be applied because, while the plaintiff met the first and third elements, she was unable to meet the second element, showing that the elevator was in the defendant’s exclusive control at the time of or just before the incident. Thus, the trial court granted summary judgment as to the defendant.

Upon appeal, the plaintiff argued that the court erred in failing to find that the defendant did not have exclusive control over the elevator and that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor should have been applied. The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court that the plaintiff failed to meet all three elements and, hence, the plaintiff could not utilize this doctrine to prove negligence against the elevator company.

Because of the lapse in time between the defendant’s inspection of the elevator on August 1, 2012 and the incident over six weeks later on September 13, 2012, as well as the absence of any evidence linking the defendant to the malfunction of the door, the Court found that the defendant lacked the requisite control over the elevator to justify the application of res ipsa loquitor.

At the time of the last inspection, the elevator was in proper working order. There was no evidence that the elevator malfunctioned at the time of the accident. The Court noted that there “must be evidence that the defendant exercised control over the subject instrumentality to meet the second prong of this doctrine.” The Appellate Division found that the defendant’s connection to the elevator was “too attenuated” from the accident to conclude that it maintained control over the elevator at that time. Hence, the Court determined that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor did not apply and it upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s case.



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.

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