South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Liability May Be Based on Negligence but Not Also on Res Ipsa Loquitur
Description Iowa high court held that a court could not give a jury the option of imposing liability in a case of premises liability based both on negligence and on res ipsa loquitur, as that would be prejudicial against the defendant.
Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words Premises Liability; Negligence; Res Ipsa Loquitur
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Conner bought some home insulation from Menard and drove to the rear of the store to load the bundles into her pickup. While opening the back of the pickup, a bundle of insulation fell from the top of the stack as an employee tried to retrieve it. The bundle fell about 15 feet and landed on Conner. She sued for negligence. The trial court submitted the case to the jury on allegations of negligence and res ipsa loquitur. The jury assessed damages of $281,000, finding Menardís 80% at fault and Conner 20% at fault. Menard appealed. The appeals court reversed on the issue of res ipsa loquitur and ordered a new trial. Conner appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. Res ipsa loquitur was improperly used by the district court. It is a type of circumstantial evidence that permits a jury to infer the cause of the injury from the naked fact of the injury and then to add the further inference that this inferred cause proceeded from negligence. The instruction to the jury was prejudicial to the store and was not a harmless error. The jury could impose liability based on negligence, but if it did not find negligence, then it would impose liability based on res ipsa loquitur despite a lack of negligence, thereby giving the plaintiff two bites from the apple.

Citation Conner v. Menard, Inc., ---N.W.2d--- (2005 WL 2678921, Sup. Ct., Iowa, 2005)

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