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Warren v. Jeffries

    Brief Fact Summary. Terry Lee Enoch (Enoch), a 6-year old child, was injured when a wheel of Jeffries’ (Defendant) automobile ran over his body. The child died from his injuries. Warren (Plaintiff) brought an action to recover for the child’s alleged wrongful death. Plaintiff appealed a judgment of involuntary nonsuit entered at the close of Plaintiff’s evidence.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The conditions traditionally required for the application of res ipsa loquitur are: “an accident that normally does not happen without negligence; exclusive control of the instrumentality by the defendant; and absence of voluntary action or contribution by the plaintiff.” In order for the Plaintiff to have the benefit of res ipsa loquitur, she must convince the jury that each of these factors more likely than not exists.

    Facts. Defendant’s car was parked on an incline at Plaintiff’s home. Defendant gave Ms. Enoch, the child’s mother, the keys to his car so that she could drive it to the store. The mother was in the house, while five children, including Enoch, climbed into the rear of the vehicle. No one touched any of the control mechanisms of the car. Enoch was the last to enter and when he closed the door something clicked in the front and the car started rolling backward in the direction of a large ditch. One of the older children opened the door and told the others to jump out. When the decedent jumped out he fell, and the front wheel ran over his chest.

    Issue. Does the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur apply?

    Held. No. No sufficient proof of negligence was offered. All indications were that this was an accident.

    Discussion. As noted in Gift v. Palmer, an analogous case, “A verdict cannot be supported on the basis of mere speculation or conjecture. Proof of negligence may be furnished by the circumstances themselves and it is not essential to have eyewitness testimony, but when the circumstantial evidence is offered because direct proof is not available it must provide as the only reasonable inference the conclusion that the accident was caused by the negligence of the defendant.”


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