Law School Case Brief
Widmyer v. Southeast Skyways - 584 P.2d 1
The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is recognized law in Alaska and in nearly all jurisdictions in the United States. Traditionally, the doctrine has been applied when the following requirements are met: 1) the accident is one which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone's negligence; 2) the agency or instrumentality is within the exclusive control of the defendant; 3) the injurious condition or occurrence was not due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff.
On November 15, 1974, a DeHavilland Beaver airplane, owned by Southeast Skyways, Inc., and piloted by Richard Norvell, crashed in the waters of False Bay, Chichagof Island, Alaska. The pilot and three passengers, Peggy Rae Welch, Joshua John Welch and Dermott R. O'Toole, were killed in the crash. Appellants, Carmelita Widmyer and A. Dermott O'Toole, personal representatives of the estates of the deceased passengers, brought the present action for wrongful death against appellees, Southeast Skyways, Inc., and James Norvell, personal representative of the estate of Richard Norvell. At the conclusion of the trial, the court refused to give several of appellants' proposed instructions. Requests for instructions relating to: (1) the duty of care imposed on a common carrier; (2) Federal Aviation Administration regulations; (3) the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and (4) the "act of God" defense were denied. Thereafter, the jury retuned a verdict for Skyways. The appellants challenged the decision, contending that the refusal of the trial court to instruct regarding the particular duty of care of a common carrier and the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was error.
Was the refusal of the trial court to instruct regarding the particular duty of care of a common carrier and the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur an error?
The Court concluded that the trial court erred in failing to give the instruction on the duty of a common carrier and on res ipsa loquitur. The Court held that in an accident in which there were no survivors to testify and no other direct evidence of the cause, the plaintiffs should not be precluded from using the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur because they have offered a possible explanation to the jury. Because the totality of the circumstances had to be considered in each factual setting, the Court found no reason to preclude the applicability of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and the lack of an instruction on the doctrine was error.
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