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Marie MacClatchey v. HCA Health Services of Florida, Inc., Case No. 4D13-1744 (4thDCA)

In MacClatchey, the Fourth DCA reversed a summary judgment entered in favor of the defense. In this negligence action, the Fourth DCA determined that construing the evidence in the plaintiff’s favor, genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether the defendant hospital’s negligence could be inferred under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

The plaintiff filed suit after suffering injuries when a framed piece of artwork fell from the wall in a patient’s room and struck the plaintiff on the head. After the incident, a hospital employee showed the plaintiff broken hooks on the wall where the picture had been hanging. The hospital moved for summary judgment arguing there were no genuine issues of material fact with regards to the hospital having actual or constructive knowledge of an alleged dangerous condition, and that res ipsa loquitur did not apply because the plaintiff could not satisfy either of the essential elements of the doctrine.

The Fourth DCA noted that in negligence cases, summary judgment procedures applied “with special caution.” To prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed him or her a duty of care, which the defendant breached, and that such breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and resulting damage. A property owner owes a duty to invitees to exercise ordinary care in maintaining reasonably safe premises and to warn of any dangerous condition which is known or should be known to the owner. Res ipsa loquitur is a rule of evidence which affords an injured plaintiff a common sense inference of negligence, provided that the following elements exist: (1) the instrumentality causing his or her injury was under the exclusive control of the defendant, and (2) the accident is one that would not, in the ordinary course of events, have occurred without negligence on the part of the one in control. “The plaintiff is not required to eliminate with certainty all other possible causes or inferences . . . All that is required is evidence from which reasonable persons can say that on the whole it is more likely that there was negligence associated with the cause of the vent than that there was not.”

The Fourth DCA noted that in negligence cases, summary judgment procedures applied “with special caution.” To prevail on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed him or her a duty of care, which the defendant breached, and that such breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and resulting damage. A property owner owes a duty to invitees to exercise ordinary care in maintaining reasonably safe premises and to warn of any dangerous condition which is known or should be known to the owner. Res ipsa loquitur is a rule of evidence which affords an injured plaintiff a common sense inference of negligence, provided that the following elements exist: (1) the instrumentality causing his or her injury was under the exclusive control of the defendant, and (2) the accident is one that would not, in the ordinary course of events, have occurred without negligence on the part of the one in control. “The plaintiff is not required to eliminate with certainty all other possible causes or inferences . . . All that is required is evidence from which reasonable persons can say that on the whole it is more likely that there was negligence associated with the cause of the vent than that there was not.”

With respect to the second element of res ipsa loquitur – that the accident is one which would not ordinarily occur absent negligence on the part of the one in control – the Fourth DCA found the record to contain conflicting descriptions of the incident, and where evidence is conflicting or could permit different reasonable inferences, it should be submitted to the jury. The Court therefore reversed the summary judgment.

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