Corporate Elevator Responsible for Causing Injury Presents Precarious Issue for Determining Liability

A case where an individual was harmed as a result of an elevator unexpectedly falling several floors afforded a Virginia federal district court the opportunity to examine the concept of res ipsa loquitur, and whether it applied to the plaintiff’s personal injury claim against two corporate defendants.

In the case, McGriff v. GRAMERCY CAPITAL CORP., Dist. Ct., ED Va. (2013), the plaintiff boarded the elevator on the twelfth floor of a corporate building, intending to travel up one floor. However, once the plaintiff boarded the elevator, it suddenly and violently fell several floors, causing significant injury to the plaintiff.

The building is owned by one of the defendants, which is in turn owned by the other defendant named in the lawsuit. The defendants leased a portion of the building to a third party, not named in this suit, who contracted with a separate company, which contracted with yet another company for the maintenance of the elevator.

The plaintiff initially filed the suit in state court, but the defendants removed the case to federal court, and shortly thereafter filed a motion to dismiss regarding one part of the plaintiff’s complaint, alleging a failure to state a claim.

In the relevant claim at hand, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants were liable for her personal injuries under a theory of res ipsa loquitur. In order for the doctrine to apply, the plaintiff must show three different factors, which include if the instrument in question was in the sole possession or control of the defendant; that the injury ordinarily would not have happened if the defendant had been careful; and that the defendant had exclusive knowledge regarding the potential cause of the injury to plaintiff.

The court first found that there is adequate state authority to support the notion that an elevator typically does not fall without explanation absent negligence. However, rather than claiming that the elevator was in the sole possession or control of one of the defendants, the plaintiff argued that the elevator “was in the joint and exclusive control of all Defendants.” This theory had not been adopted by the Virginia state courts, and was in fact a novel concept to their courts. Thus, the district court was unwilling to extend the concept in this case.

Furthermore, while additional discovery may have demonstrated more helpful evidence for the plaintiff’s claim, because she argued that the defendants exercised “joint and exclusive control,” she failed to state a claim under state law that could be adjudicated by the court, and therefore precluded the claim from continuing. Thus, the court granted the motion to dismiss regarding that particular claim. The court did grant the plaintiff 11 days in order to amend her complaint.

What is interesting about the ultimate holding in this case is that the court found a failure to state a claim on the basis that the defendants were jointly in control. It would have been interesting to see if the court would have found differently if the case were pleaded such that the plaintiff alleged that each defendant was entirely in exclusive control alternative from each other — in other words, if defendant A maintained exclusive possession, OR in the alternative, defendant B was entirely in control and possession. If either of those were true, she would have had a proper claim, and discovery could have revealed which claim was supportable.

If you or a loved one has been injured due to a landowner’s failure to maintain their property within Maryland or the greater Washington D.C. area, contact the experienced personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers. Our premises liability attorneys have the experience and skills to successfully handle your personal injury accident case. We have successfully represented individuals across the state who have been injured in many different sorts of accidents that were caused by another person’s negligence. Call us today in order to schedule your initial complimentary consultation. We can be reached through this website or at 1-800-654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Supreme Court Sides with Plaintiff in Armed Forces Medical Malpractice Lawsuit, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, published December 17, 2013
Kroger Green Bean Slip & Fall Case Demonstrates Considerations for whether Personal Injury Cases Remain in Federal or State Court, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, published December 10, 2013

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