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Boyer v. Iowa High School Athletic Association

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff, her husband and the Garlands attended a basketball game at a high school and sat in the top row of the bleachers. At the end of the game their section of the bleachers collapsed causing Plaintiff and Mr. Garland to fall and Plaintiff’s husband “was left hanging by one foot on the bleachers, head down.â€

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Two situations that allow an inference that an injury resulted from a defendant’s negligence, when the cause of injury is unclear and in dispute, include: “(1) exclusive control and management by defendant of the instrumentality which causes the injury, and (2) the occurrence is such as in the ordinary course of things would not happen if reasonable care had been used.â€

    Facts.

    Plaintiff was an attendee of a basketball game at Roosevelt Junior High School. Plaintiff attended with her husband and the Garlands and were seated in the top row of the bleachers. Defendant is Iowa High School Athletic Association, who was a party to a contract with the high school. Per the contract the game was under Defendant’s management, supervision, and direction. The bleachers were 16′ long/7 rows high, made of wood and steel, and included wooden footrests below every row except for the bottom row. Top row was 8′-9′ above the floor. The bleachers get pushed back against the wall when not in use, and are taken out/put back 2-4 times every week. It is common practice for attendees to stand on the footrests or the seats during games. This happened at the game in question and only the section of bleachers where Plaintiff was seated “collapsed or folded back toward the wall†causing Plaintiff and Mr. Garland to fall to the floor (Mrs. Garland did not) and Plaintiff’s husband “was left hanging by one foot on the bleachers, head down.†Plaintiff sued Defendant for personal injuries under negligence and res ipsa loquitur. Trial court proceeded only on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Jury found for Plaintiff and Defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is proper in this case.

    Held.

    The jury could make an inference that defendant’s negligence was the cause of the injury and the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was proper. The trial court made no reversible error. Affirmed.

    Concurrence.

    All concur, except Mason, J. takes no part, and Becker, J. concurs in result (Rawlings, J. joins Becker’s special concurrence). Referencing multiple sources of authority that find and suggest the element of exclusive control is not essential in order to apply the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

    Discussion.

    This Court believes in absence of negligence bleachers that are regularly used at sports games do not normally collapse. This Court also found the contract language made clear that Mason City school system’s athletic director and Roosevelt Junior High School’s custodian were “acting under the management, supervision and direction of [D]efendant,†and therefore had the exclusive control and were in the best position to have discovered any defects in the bleachers. This lead this Court to reject Defendant’s argument that the defect would have been apparent to Plaintiff and not “peculiarly accessible to [D]efendant.&rdquo.


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