Court Rejects Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff’s Case for Lack of Evidence

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Rhode Island issued a written opinion in a premises liability case brought by a woman who fell through the wooden stairs leading up to the home in which she lived with the defendant. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss the doctrine of “res ipsa loquitur” as it applies to slip-and-fall cases when there is little to no evidence that the defendant knew that the dangerous condition causing the plaintiff’s fall existed. Ultimately, the court concluded that, without more, res ipsa loquitur does not apply.

Wooden StairsThe Ancient Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur

The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is an old common-law doctrine that, in Latin, translates to “the thing speaks for itself.” Courts have allowed plaintiffs to apply the doctrine when there was an accident that would not likely have occurred unless the defendant was negligent. In order for the doctrine to apply, several elements must be met:

  • The injury must be the type that would not normally occur without a negligent act;
  • The injury was caused by something that was in the exclusive control of the defendant; and
  • The plaintiff took no part in causing the accident.

If a plaintiff is able to show that each of the above elements is met, there will be a presumption that the defendant was negligent. A recent case illustrates that in order for a court to apply the res ipsa loquitur doctrine, the plaintiff must be able to show more than the fact that an accident had occurred.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was living with the defendant in the defendant’s home when she fell through a wooden staircase that led up to the home’s front door. The plaintiff explained that she did not see anything wrong with the stairs at the time of her accident and that she had used the stairs without any problem earlier in the day. The plaintiff claimed that there was fairly significant wood-rot, due to an insect infestation.

Several years after the accident, the plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the defendant, claiming that the defendant was negligent in failing to properly inspect the staircase and warn her of any defects. Since there was no actual evidence that the defendant knew the staircase was rotted, the plaintiff attempted to proceed under the res ipsa loquitur doctrine to establish a presumption of negligence.

The court determined that res ipsa loquitur did not apply under the facts of the case. The court explained that the plaintiff must show that their claim is based on competent evidence, rather than “conjecture or speculation.” Here, the court noted, the plaintiff had no evidence that the staircase was actually rotted. As a result, the court declined the opportunity to extend the res ipsa loquitur doctrine to cover the facts of this case.

Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The legal requirements to prove a slip-and-fall case are complex, and a dedicated personal injury attorney is best suited to bring these claims. The skilled advocates at the Maryland and Washington, D.C. law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have extensive experience bringing all types of personal injury lawsuits, including those arising out of slip-and-fall accidents. To learn more, and to speak with an attorney about your case, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Appellate Court Rejects City’s Assertion of Immunity in Recent Personal Injury Case, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, June 9, 2017

Legal Liability for Accidents Occurring on Guided Tours in Washington, D.C., Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, May 23, 2017

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