Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Summary Judgment Based on Res Ipsa Granted

            In Bonacci v. Brewster Service Station, Inc. (50474/2015, NYLJ 1202770540779, decided October 5, 2016), a Westchester County Supreme Court personal injury case, a plaintiff's motion for summary judgment as to liability against a defendant was granted based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitar.  Particularly, the case arose after the plaintiff was injured by his motor vehicle after it rolled off a lift at a mechanic's garage (after he brought it in for inspection, and was waiting for the inspection to be completed).  After the completion of the discovery process, the plaintiff thereafter a motion for summary judgment, contending, among other things, that the res ipsa loquitar doctrine applied as a result of the following: (1) the incident could not have ordinarily occurred in the absence of defendant's negligence; (2) the incident was caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; and (3) the incident was not due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff.  In opposition to the plaintiff's motion, the defendant contended, among other things, that the plaintiff should not have been standing near the lift because there was signage advising customers that they were not permitted to enter the area.

            The Court granted the plaintiff's motion, and held the following: "The court finds that this is one of those rare cases recognized by [Morejon v. Rais Construction Company, 7 NY3d 203 (2006)] when res ipsa loquitur can be applied in order to determine whether plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment as to liability.  The court's research reveals that the issue arises primarily in medical malpractice cases...and that this analysis requires a careful case by case examination of the facts.  However, as recognized by Morejon, supra, at footnote 8, there have been non-medical malpractice cases where the doctrine has been applied to justify the granting of the motion for partial summary judgment.  Harmon v. United States Shoe Corp., 262 AD2d 1010 [4th Dept 1999] (summary judgment is properly granted in a res ipsa loquitur case where defendant has totally failed to rebut the inescapable inference of negligence); cited by Mejia v. New York City Transit Authority, 291 AD2d 225 [1st Dept 2002] (res ipsa loquitur was applicable on summary judgment motion where pedestrian was struck by a piece of ceiling while waiting for a train on a subway platform), cited by Flossos v. Waterside Redevelopment Co., L.P., 108 AD3d 647 [2d Dept 2013] (genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied, precluding summary judgment for owner and managers of an apartment building on painter's negligence claim, seeking to recover damages for injuries he sustained when a piece of ceiling he was painting fell down on him, propelling him and ladder on which he was standing to the floor).  Here, the court finds that this is a case where the inference of res ipsa loquitur should apply as the evidence of defendant's negligence is inescapable."

Salvatore R. Marino, Esq.