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Andrews v. United Airlines - 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13376 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 27, 1992)

Rule:

The res ipsa doctrine creates a rebuttable presumption or inference of negligence where the accident is: (1) caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; (2) the type which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence; and (3) not due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff. 

Facts:

Plaintiff Billie-Jean Andrews was a passenger on an airplane owned and operated by defendant United Airlines Inc. ("United"). During the flight, Andrews was injured when a briefcase fell from an overhead compartment and struck her on the head. Andrews filed a negligence action against United in California state court seeking to recover damages for her injuries. United removed the action to federal district court based on diversity jurisdiction. United filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Andrews failed to adduce any evidence that United breached its duty of care towards Andrew. Andrews countered, arguing that United knew of other overhead bin accidents and should have questioned the sufficiency of the bin design and the adequacy of United's warning concerning the use of the bins. Andrew further contended that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied to create a rebuttable presumption of negligence. 

Issue:

Did Andrews fail to adduce any evidence of negligence on the part of United?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court agreed with United and granted United's motion for summary judgment. The court noted that Andrews failed to present any evidence that showed that United had done anything that resulted in the briefcase falling on Andrews' head as it was uncontroverted that another passenger opened the overhead bin. The court also noted that Andrews failed to show that United had sufficient notice of other overhead bin accidents and should have questioned the adequacy of the bin design and the warning to its passengers. Finally, the court ruled that the res ipsa loquitur doctrine did not apply because United did not retain exclusive control over the overhead compartment.

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