A federal district court recently issued an opinion in a Florida premises liability lawsuit against Orange County. The plaintiff, an attorney, met with a client at a county jail when an interior gate suddenly closed on her. Following the incident, the plaintiff filed a Florida premises liability lawsuit against the County for her injuries. The County argued that neither it nor the corrections officer controlling the gate, acted negligently. They contended that the plaintiff tripped on a sensor or experienced an unexpected gate malfunction.
The plaintiff presented testimony from jail employees describing how the gates operate and what steps an officer takes to open a gate when a visitor enters or exits. The officer in charge of operating the gate on the day of the incident stated that he did not press any buttons while the plaintiff was walking through. He explained that the sensor serves as a safety mechanism to stop the gate from closing when a person walks through the gate. The plaintiff did not introduce any evidence explaining whether the gate malfunctioned. However, the trial court provided a res ipsa loquitur instruction.
Res ipsa loquitur, which roughly translates to “the thing speaks for itself,” is a theory that allows a court to infer negligence from the inherent nature of the accident. This theory is applicable when there is an absence of direct evidence of a defendant’s actions. To be entitled to a res ipsa loquitur instruction, a plaintiff must establish that the instrumentality causing his or her injury was under the exclusive control of the defendant, and that the accident was one that would not, in the ordinary course of events, have occurred without negligence on the part of the one in control.