Recently, an appeals court issued an opinion in a Florida negligence lawsuit stemming from injuries an attorney suffered while visiting a county jail client. As the attorney passed through a security gate at the jail, an inside gate closed on her. The defendants argued that neither the County nor the corrections officer controlling the gate acted negligently. Instead, the defendant argued that the plaintiff tripped on a sensor or the gate malfunctioned. The defendants contended that the malfunction was unrelated to any negligence on their part.
The plaintiff presented testimony explaining how the gates operate and how an officer manually opens the gate to allow visitors to pass through. The officer in charge of the gate on the day of the incident testified that he did not press any buttons while the plaintiff was stepping through. Further, he testified that a safety sensor should have halted the gate. However, the plaintiff failed to present evidence explaining whether a malfunction could cause the gate to close unexpectedly.
Florida’s res ipsa loquitur doctrine, provides injury victims with a “common-sense” inference of negligence where there is a lack of direct proof. In Latin, res ipsa loquitur means “the thing speaks for itself.” However, this only applies when there are other facts consistent with negligence. Courts permit this instruction when a plaintiff establishes that the harmful instrumentality was under the defendant’s exclusive control. Essentially, a plaintiff must meet the initial burden establishing probable negligence. Plaintiffs must understand that the doctrine does not require them to eliminate all possible causes of an accident. Instead, they must merely show that a reasonable person could find that it is more likely than not that negligence caused the accident.