A 35-year old Queens man was returning, one December day, by car from New England with his wife when he met an accident. According to the man’s testimony, he had a slight collision with a van in the entrance ramp of the Bruckner Expressway. The collision resulted in locked bumpers. The two drivers exited their vehicles to disengage their bumpers. The next recollection, the man said he was waking up on the ground.
The man’s wife, now deceased, testified at an examination before trial that while she was watching her husband dislodge the bumper, a tire rolled past and hit him in the back, rendering him unconscious. She stated that the tire was traveling so fast, she thought that it killed him. The wife first saw the tire when it was about five feet away from her husband, and did not see where it came from. According to records in court, the tire had an identification tag stapled just below the tread. The tag bore the name of a tire manufacturing company.
The man filed an action against the van owner and the tire manufacturing company to recover damages for the personal injuries he sustained as a result of the accident. The tire manufacturing company moved to dismiss the action complaining that the evidence presented failed to establish any negligence on its part, and failed to connect it with the offending tire. The trial court granted the motion.
On appeal, the appellate court held that the man has established a prima facie case of negligence against the tire manufacturing company under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, which means the things speaks for itself. The doctrine means that there must be reasonable evidence of negligence; but where the thing is shown to be under the management of the defendant or his servants, and the accident is such as in the ordinary course of things does not happen if those who have the management use proper care, it affords reasonable evidence, in the absence of explanation by the defendants, that the truck accident arose from want of care.
The appellate court found that the evidence established the three elements required for application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. A fully inflated truck tire mounted on a rim rolling down an expressway at high speed is the sort of occurrence which does not usually happen unless someone has been negligent by failing to properly secure and maintain the tire, the appellate court held. Additionally, the owner of the truck where the tire came from delivered a repaired truck tire to the Long Island tire company one week before the accident. The appellate court held that it is probable that the repaired tire was the same tire that injured the man.
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