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Res Ipsa Loquitur Does Not Apply If Defendant Did Not Have Exclusive Control
Description Claim that farm equipment was damaged by mud over a gas pipeline rejected by court of appeals which held that res ipse loquitur could not apply because defendant pipeline owner did not have exclusive control over the pipeline.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence, Res Ipsa Loquitur
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Wheeler was cutting wheat with his combine on a field owned by Scheihing. The combine was damaged when it sunk into deep mud over a pipeline right of way owned by Koch. Koch had an agreement with Sheihing to "bury all pipe to a sufficient depth so as not to interfere with ordinary cultivation of soil." Koch was responsible for maintaining the pipeline, which was inspected by aerial patrol every seven to ten days. Wheeler sued Koch for damages to his combine and for lost profits. Evidence at trial was that there has been very heavy rains that year, that Scheihing's field was very muddy, that the combine made big ruts and had been stuck in other places. Scheihing testified that there was no washout around the pipeline and that he had driven his tractor over the pipeline without incident. The judge instructed the jury on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and negligence. The jury awarded Wheeler $48,000 in damages after finding Wheeler and Koch each 50 percent negligent.
Decision Reversed as to Koch. For res ipsa loquitur to apply "the plaintiff must prove:
  1. the defendant had exclusive control of the instrumentality causing the plaintiff's injury; and
  2. the injury is the kind which ordinarily does not occur absent negligence."
Koch did not have exclusive control over the pipeline right of way; it was subject to the effects of farm equipment and heavy rainfall.
Citation Wheeler v. Koch Gathering Systems, ---F.3d--- (1997 WL 755277, 10th Cir.)
131 F.3d 898 (10th Cir., 1997)

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