Maryland Court Discusses Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur in Personal Injury Appeal

In a recent case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a personal injury claim in which a judgment in favor of the defendant was granted by the trial court. In Cohen v. Veolia Transp. Servs., Inc. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Feb. 29, 2016), the plaintiff alleged that she sustained personal injuries while being transported in a mobility van when the motorized scooter on which she was seated tipped over. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s employee was negligent in failing to secure the scooter to the floor of the van. At trial, the plaintiff relied on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to establish a prima facie case of negligence. The trial court held that it did not apply, and it granted the defendant’s motion for judgment at the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case.

Res ipsa loquitur allows a plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of negligence when direct evidence of the cause of the accident is unavailable, and circumstantial evidence permits the inference that the defendant’s negligence was the cause. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur will be available if the accident or injury is one that ordinarily would not occur without negligence on the part of the operator of the vehicle, and the facts are so clear and certain that an inference of negligence arises naturally. In effect, res ipsa loquitur allows the plaintiff to present the question of negligence to the fact-finder, notwithstanding a lack of direct evidence bearing on causation.

The plaintiff must establish that (1) the accident was of a kind that does not ordinarily occur absent negligence, (2) the accident was caused by an instrumentality exclusively in the defendant’s control, and (3) the accident was not caused by an act or omission of the plaintiff. Additionally, although not an indispensable requirement of res ipsa loquitur, facts surrounding the accident are typically more within the knowledge of the defendant than within the knowledge of the plaintiff. To satisfy the exclusive-control requirement, the evidence must demonstrate that no third party or other intervening force contributed more probably than not to the accident.

In Cohen v. Veolia Transp. Servs., Inc., the appeals court noted that there was nothing in the record to demonstrate that a motorized scooter being transported with someone sitting on it will ordinarily not tip without an act of negligence. The court pointed to the owner’s manual, which included a warning about the danger of tipping while being transported in a vehicle. In addition, there was no evidence describing the security apparatus and how it was supposed to be attached. The court explained that the inherent instability of the scooter, even if secured properly in the van, and the possibility of a manufacturing defect due to a third party could have caused the injury. As a result, the appeals court found that the elements of res ipsa loquitur had not been satisfied, and it affirmed the ruling of the trial court against the plaintiff.

If you have been injured in an accident caused by the negligence of another person or business, you may be able to pursue compensation for your medical expenses, lost income, and other damages. The Maryland attorneys at Foran & Foran have experience representing accident victims in a variety of cases, including auto accidents, motorcycle accidents, premises liability, medical malpractice, and more. To discuss your personal injury claim with one of our skilled attorneys, call us at (301) 441-2022 or contact us through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff Wins Appeal in Maryland Lead Paint Case, Summary Judgment Reversed, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 4, 2015

Maryland Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Slip and Fall Limo Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published March 23, 2016

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