Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff is a waitress. A bottles of carbonated Coca Cola exploded and hurt her hand. Plaintiff sued the manufacturer.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur does not apply unless defendant had exclusive control of the thing causing the injury and the accident is of such a nature that it ordinarily would not occur in the absence of negligence by defendant.
The retailer, even though not equipped to test a product, is under an absolute liability to his customer, for the implied warranties of fitness for proposed use and merchantable quality include a warranty of safety of the product.View Full Point of Law
Defendant’s drive delivered several cases of Coca Cola to the restaurant. Plaintiff, the waitress of the restaurant, was picking up a case of beverages and stocking those on a cabinet near a refrigerator. The injury happened when she took the bottle and it exploded in her hand. Plaintiff alleged that the bottle was defective and defendant was negligent in selling bottles containing excessive pressure of gas. Plaintiff did not show any specific negligent acts of defendant but rest her case on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.
Does the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur apply in this case?
The concurring opinion agreed with the majority opinion’s result, but differed in it arguing manufacturer should be imposed with absolute liability when its defective products cause injury. The concurring opinion argued that finding out negligence is not necessarily, as public policy demands that responsibility be fixed wherever it will most effectively reduce the hazards to life and health inherent in defective products that reach the market. Manufacturers are easily able to anticipate some potential hazards, but the public cannot.
Res ipsa loquitur does not apply unless (1) defendant had exclusive control of the thing causing the injury and (2) the accident is of such a nature that it ordinarily would not occur in the absence of negligence by the defendant. However, in order to prove control, plaintiff needs to first prove that the condition of the instrumentality had not been changed after it left the defendant’s possession. Plaintiff must also prove that she handled the bottle carefully.
An explosion like the one in this case, might have been caused by an excessive internal pressure in a sound bottle, by a defect in the glass of a bottle containing a safe pressure, or by a combination of these two possible causes. The question is whether under the evidence there was a probability that defendant was negligent in any of these respects. If so, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies. The Court explained that even it is not clear which was the cause of the explosion, neither cause would ordinarily happen if defendant used due care. Further, defendant had exclusive control over both the charging and inspection of the bottles. Accordingly, all the requirements necessary to entitle plaintiff to rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to supply an inference of negligence are present. The judgment is affirmed.