Essentially there was a dock, a foot went through. Ordinarily, docks and what not don’t allow you to put your foot through them when walking on them. Usually this only happens when you haven’t been keeping up with the dock. The Court of Appeals said that Res Ipsa would provide evidence of negligence, but only if there was also evidence that the owners knew or should have known of the condition.
Well, as it turns out, Res Ipsa Loquitur means “The Thing Speaks for Itself”. Seems kind of at odds to require additional evidence when applying the doctrine. The Washington Supreme Court agreed:
We reject this analysis. A plaintiff may rely upon res ipsa loquitur’s inference of negligence if (1) the accident or occurrence that caused the plaintiff’s injury would not ordinarily happen in the absence of negligence, (2) the instrumentality or agency that caused the plaintiff’s injury was in the exclusive control of the defendant, and (3) the plaintiff did not contribute to the accident or occurrence. Pacheco, 149 Wn.2d at 436. The first element is satisfied if one of three conditions is present: ”‘(1) When the act causing the injury is so palpably negligent that it may be inferred as a matter of law, i.e., leaving foreign objects, sponges, scissors, etc., in the body, or amputation of a wrong member; (2) when the general experience and observation of mankind teaches that the result would not be expected without negligence; and (3) when proof by experts in an esoteric field creates an inference that negligence caused the injuries.’” Id. at 438-39 (quoting Zukowsky, 79 Wn.2d at 595 (quoting Horner v. N. Pac. Beneficial Ass’n Hosps., Inc., 62 Wn.2d 351, 360, 382 P.2d 518 (1963))). Curtis relies upon the second scenario: general experience and observation teaches that a wooden dock does not give way under foot unless it is negligently maintained. Curtis, 150 Wn. App. at 106. The Court of Appeals agreed with this argument but concluded that it “does not follow that dangerous docks ordinarily exhibit discoverable defects,” and therefore res ipsa loquitur could not apply. Id. at 107. The Court of Appeals explained that Curtis could not rely on res ipsa loquitur to meet her “burden of showing that the dock’s defect was discoverable.” Id. at 106.
The Court of Appeals erred when it parsed out the inference of negligence that can be drawn from res ipsa loquitur. When res ipsa loquitur applies, it provides an inference as to the defendant’s breach of duty. See Miller v. Jacoby, 145 Wn.2d 65, 74, 33 P.3d 68 (2001). It therefore would apply an inference of negligence on the part of the Leins generally: what they knew or reasonably should have known about the dock’s condition is part of the duty that they owed to Curtis. What the Leins knew or reasonably should have known about the dock is exactly the sort of information that res ipsa loquitur is intended to supply by inference, if the inference applies at all. See Ripley v. Lanzer, 152 Wn. App. 296, 307, 215 P.3d 1020 (2009) (accident’s “‘occurrence is of itself sufficient to establish prima facie the fact of negligence on the part of the defendant, without further direct proof.’” (quoting Metro. Mortgage & Sec. Co. v. Wash. Water Power, 37 Wn. App. 241, 243, 679 P.2d 943 (1984))). The Court of Appeals erred when it held otherwise.
A turtle flying from a window. Your argument is invalid.