Department Store Customer Injured in Escalator Accident Pursues Maryland Negligence Claim

In some Maryland negligence cases, it is difficult to determine exactly how the victim’s personal injury occurred.  Legal recourse may nevertheless be possible under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur if the jury could infer that negligence on the part of the defendant was more probable than not responsible for the victim’s injury.  The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland addressed whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied in a June 25, 2018 case involving an escalator injury.

The plaintiff in the case was using the escalator in a department store in the mall.  She was injured when the escalator stopped suddenly.  The plaintiff brought suit against the companies which owned, operated, and/or maintained the escalator.  However, the lower court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment because the plaintiff failed to designate an expert witness on the issue of liability.  The plaintiff appealed, contending that, as she had met her burden to apply the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, expert testimony was unnecessary.

In Maryland, a plaintiff seeking to rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur must establish that the accident was one that does not ordinarily occur absent negligence, that the accident was caused by an instrumentality exclusively within the defendant’s control, and the accident was not caused by an act or omission of the plaintiff.  If the plaintiff can prove these elements, then the issue of negligence may be presented to a jury, which may then choose to infer a defendant’s negligence without the aid of any direct evidence.

The appeals court analyzed prior case law and concluded that res ipsa does not apply in circumstances that require knowledge of complicated matters such as mechanics, electricity, circuits, and engineering.  Rather, in cases concerning the malfunction of complex machinery, an expert is required to testify that the malfunction is of a sort that would not occur absent some negligence.  The court concluded that escalators are complex machines that may malfunction for reasons outside of common knowledge that do not involve negligence.  As such, whether an escalator is likely to stop abruptly in the absence of someone’s negligence is a question that a lay jury could not answer based on common knowledge.

The court went on to rule that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was unavailable to the plaintiff under the circumstances of the case, and that, without the aid of expert testimony, she could not prove her case.  Accordingly, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

The personal injury lawyers at Foran & Foran, P.A. can provide legal guidance to victims of negligence in Maryland.  We have assisted many plaintiffs in recovering their medical expenses, wages, and other losses in premises liability cases and personal injury claims.  Request a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys by calling our office at (301) 441-2022 or completing the contact form on our website.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Plaintiff Pursues Appeal Against Clothing Store After Trip and Fall Injury, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published May 15, 2018

Maryland Plaintiff Wins on Appeal in Slip and Fall Case Against Convenience Store, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 5, 2016