Khirieh v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co

In Khirieh v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 594 So. 2d 1220 (Ala. 1992) the Court said: "The (res ipsa loquitur ) doctrine allows one, under certain circumstances, to infer negligence from the surrounding facts, in instances where the precise and exact cause of an injury is unknown or unknowable. "'Proof of negligence requires the establishment of a duty and a breach thereof that proximately caused damage to the plaintiff. Mere proof that an accident and an injury occurred is generally insufficient to establish negligence. However, in limited circumstances, a jury will be allowed to infer negligence if the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is deemed applicable. ".... "The elements of res ipsa loquitur are generally stated as: "'(1) The defendant must have had full management and control of the instrumentality which caused the injury; (2) the circumstances must be such that according to common knowledge and the experience of mankind the accident could not have happened if those having control of the management had not been negligent; (3) the plaintiff's injury must have resulted from the accident.'" The plaintiff was knocked down and injured while walking through the sliding doors of a Kmart store. There is little, if any, dispute that the doors malfunctioned. However, there was no evidence as to what caused the malfunction. The trial judge instructed the jury on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $ 289,000. The majority reverses, holding that the doctrine does not apply in sliding-door cases. The main opinion acknowledges, however, that a number of jurisdictions have held otherwise. See, e.g., Rose v. Port of New York Authority, 61 N.J. 129, 293 A.2d 371 (1972). There were two problems of proof in that case. First, the plaintiff was knocked unconscious in the doorway and had no definite knowledge of what had hit him. Second, assuming that the sliding door had hit him, he was unable to show why. The trial court entered a judgment on a jury verdict for the plaintiff in the amount of $ 12,000. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that "it was not necessary for the plaintiff, in order to present a prima facie case, to prove more than he did." 61 N.J. at 136-37, 293 A.2d at 375. It explained: "Whether we refer to this as the rule of res ipsa loquitur or simply say that the circumstances are such as to give rise to an inference that defendant was negligent, is perhaps no great matter. Here the occurrence bespeaks negligence. Members of the public passing through automatic doors, whether in an airport, office building or supermarket do so generally without sustaining injury. What happened to the plaintiff here is fortunately unusual and not commonplace. It strongly suggests a malfunction which in turn suggests neglect. "... Where '... on the total scene it is fairly probable that the operator is responsible either in creating the hazard or permitting it to arise or to continue, it would be unjust to saddle the plaintiff with the burden of isolating the precise failure. The situation being peculiarly in the defendant's hands, it is fair to call upon the defendant to explain, if he wishes to avoid an inference by the trier of the facts that the fault probably was his.' That the door did not function properly seems highly probable, but it should not be the burden of the plaintiff to come forward with proofs as to the precise nature of the probable malfunction. His expert witness did suggest several things that might have gone wrong; he was hardly in a position to pinpoint the actual operational failure that did occur. Such a task might very likely be insuperable. Under such circumstances it is fair to call upon the defendant for an explanation." Id.