The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur may be applied upon the theory that a defendant had control of an instrumentality at the time of the alleged negligent act, although not at the time of the accident, provided a plaintiff first proves that the condition of the instrumentality had not been changed after it left the defendant's possession.
A bottle of carbonated beverage broke in the waitress's hand. Immediately before the accident, the waitress had picked up a case of the beverages and set it upon a nearby cabinet near a refrigerator. She then proceeded to take the bottles from the case with her right hand, one at a time, and put them into the refrigerator. The waitress filed a case to recover for personal injuries resulting in the exploding bottle of carbonated beverage. At trial, the waitress testified that the bottle exploded in her hand after she had placing the fourth bottle about 18 inches from the case. The trial court ruled in favor of the waitress. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of California under the assertion that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was inapplicable and that the evidence was insufficient to support the judgment.
Was the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applicable?
The court upheld the trial court's judgment. All of the requirements necessary to allow the waitress to rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, to supply an inference of negligence, were present. Although it was not clear whether the explosion was caused by an excessive charge or a defect in the glass, there was a sufficient showing that neither cause would ordinarily have been present if due care had been used. The company had exclusive control over both the charging and inspection of the bottles.