Colmenares Vivas v. Sun All. Ins. Co.

807 F.2d 1102 (1st Cir. 1986)



Under Puerto Rico law, three requirements must be met for res ipsa loquitur ("the thing speaks for itself") to apply: (1) the accident must be of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone's negligence; (2) it must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of defendant; and (3) it must not be due to any voluntary action on the part of plaintiff.


Claimants spouses filed an action to recover damages for injuries they suffered while riding an escalator. The accident happened while the wife was holding the handrail of the escalator when the handrail stopped but the escalator continued ascent, causing the wife to lose her balance. The husband tried to grab his wife and in doing so, also lost his balance and fell. The district court ruled that there was no evidence of negligence and that the case could not go before a jury based on res ipsa loquitur.


Is the appellee presumed negligent under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur?




The court found that the three requirements for the application of res ipsa loquitur were met and that the case should have gone to the jury. The first requirement for res ipsa loquitur, inference of negligence, was established by the evidence that a handrail malfunctioned. The second requirement, exclusive control, was met because the port authority had a nondelegable duty keep the public escalators its building in a safe condition. It was irrelevant that a third party was responsible for the actual maintenance. The third requirement, that the accident was not due to claimants' actions, was met because there was no evidence that claimants did anything other than ride the escalator. The court also found that the district court did not err in denying the claimants' motion to amend because forcing the maintenance company, there to defend a contractual indemnity claim, to prepare for a negligence lawsuit six days before the action was to go to trial was too prejudicial absent good cause.

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