Legal Memorandum: Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur in NY

Issue: Under New York law, can the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur be applied to elevator accidents?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Doctrine of res ipsa loquitur; Elevator accidents
Jurisdiction: New York
Cited Cases: 227 N.E.2d 304; 280 N.Y.S.2d 385; 175 A.D.2d 823; 495 N.Y.S.2d 376; 573 N.Y.S.2d 196
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 05/01/2000

There are three essential elements which must be established before the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur will be applied: (1) the event must be of a kind that does not ordinarily occur in the absence of someone’s negligence; (2) it must be caused by an instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; and (3) the plaintiff must not have effected the happening of the event by any voluntary action.  Burgess v. Otis Elevator Co., 114 A.D.2d 784, 495 N.Y.S.2d 376 (1st Dep’t 1985), citing Corcoran v. Banner Supermarket, 19 N.Y.2d 425, 430, 280 N.Y.S.2d 385, 227 N.E.2d 304, (1967).  In Burgess, an elevator passenger sought to apply the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to an incident in which the passenger tripped while exiting the elevator due to a leveling malfunction.  The court held that the second element was established against the elevator company, given the building owner’s “reliance upon the elevator company’s expertise to inspect and maintain the intricate devices of the elevator in reasonably safe operating condition, pursuant to the service agreement.”  Id. at 787, 495 N.Y.S.2d at 380.  Likewise, in Bigio v. Otis Elevator Co., 175 A.D.2d 823, 824, 573 N.Y.S.2d 196, 197 (2nd Dep’t 1991), it was held that this element was established because “the elevator was in the elevator maintenance company’s exclusive control as a result of a service contract with the building owner.”


Subscribe to Litigation Pathfinder

To get the full-text of this Legal Memorandum ... and more!

(Month-to-month and annual subscriptions available)