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Young v. Speedway, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 19, 2018

WILLIAM YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
SPEEDWAY, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION (Doc. 15)

          AVERN COHN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I.

         This is a tort case. Plaintiff William Young (Young) is suing defendant Speedway, LLC (Speedway) seeking damages after a glass pot of coffee shattered causing hot coffee to spill on him. Young suffered burns to his ankles and feet. Speedway filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 8). The Court denied the motion for the reasons stated on the record at a hearing on April 4, 2018. (Doc. 14).

         Before the Court is Speedway's motion for reconsideration (Doc. 15) to which Young has responded (Doc. 17). For the reasons that follow, the motion is DENIED.

         II.

         In order to obtain reconsideration, Speedway must show a palpable defect by which the Court and the parties have been misled and that a different disposition of the case must result from a correction of the defect. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(h). A palpable defect is a defect that is obvious, clear, unmistakable, manifest, or plain. Witzke v. Hiller, 972 F.Supp. 426, 427 (E.D. Mich. 1997).

         III.

         A.

         Speedway says that the Court erred in applying the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor. In Jones v. Porretta, 428 Mich. 132 (1987), the Michigan Supreme Court held that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur “entitles a plaintiff to a permissible inference of negligence from circumstantial evidence.” Id. at 150. The court explained that “[t]he major purpose of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is to create at least an inference of negligence when the plaintiff is unable to prove the actual occurrence of a negligent act.” Id. A plaintiff may rely on the res ipsa loquitur doctrine if: (1) the event was of a kind that “ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone's negligence;” (2) it was “caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant;” (3) it was not caused by “any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff;” and (4) evidence of the true explanation of the event was “more readily accessible to the defendant than to the plaintiff.” Id. at 150-151 (quotations and citations omitted). Essentially, a prima facie res ipsa loquitur case proceeds on a theory that, but for negligence, the claimed injury does not ordinarily occur. Id. at 157. See also Burns v. William Beaumont Hosp., 2017 WL 2200606, at *2 (Mich. Ct. App. May 18, 2017).

         B.

         Speedway says that res ipsa is inapplicable because the coffee pot was not in the “exclusive control” of Speedway at the time it shattered. In support, Speedway cites several cases, discussed below.

         First, in Target v. Boyer, 2005 WL 602563 (Mich. Ct. App. Mar. 15, 2005), an unpublished per curium opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals, “the plaintiff reached up to a fireplace display at defendant's store to turn around a price tag hanging from the fireplace screen. The fireplace screen toppled toward her, bringing down a display of fireplace utensils.” Id. at *1. The court of appeals found plaintiff could not establish that the display was defective and therefore rejected plaintiff's premises liability claim. The court of appeals also found that res ipsa did not apply because, “the equipment was not within defendant's exclusive control, but within the control of plaintiff and countless other shoppers.” Id. at *2. Speedway says that like the fireplace display, the coffee pot was within Young's control and the control of other Speedway customers.

         Speedway makes too much out of the court of appeals' statement. A fair read of the case shows the court of appeals was focused on the fact that nothing about the fireplace display was dangerous and there was nothing unusual about the display which could have caused it to fall. Here, the fact that the coffee pot shattered- something that would not normally occur or occur in the absence of some defect-distinguishes this case from Boyer.

         Speedway also relies on Arsenault v. Designer Warehouse Center, Inc., 2014 WL 5464883 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 28, 2014), another unpublished opinion. In Arsenault, the plaintiff asked a salesperson for help getting some merchandise off of a high shelf. While the salesperson was getting the merchandise and plaintiff was not watching, a mannequin fell from above and struck plaintiff. The court of appeals noted that res ipsa applied because the mannequin was high on the wall and “beyond the reach of defendant's customers” and therefore “surely within the defendant's exclusive control.” Id. at *3.

         Speedway also cites the unpublished opinion of Rogoszewski v. State Lanes, Inc., 2006 WL 1185394 (Mich. Ct. App. May 4, 2006). In Rogoszewski, the plaintiff slipped and fell on the bowling lane approach at a bowling alley and broke his leg. Plaintiff contended that there must have been an oily substance on the lane which caused him to fall. In addition to rejecting plaintiff's negligence claim because plaintiff could not show that there was such a hazard, the court of appeals found res ipsa did not apply because he could not show that the bowling lane approach was in defendant's exclusive control because plaintiff and others had been using it for an hour before the fall. The court of appeals also found that plaintiff could not establish that the injury was one that does not happen in the absence of negligence because “people do slip and fall in the absence of negligence.” Id. at *3.

         Speedway says that reading Arsenault, Boyer, and Rogoszewski together, res ipsa does not apply where the instrumentality is accessible to others. This interpretation proves too much. The exclusive control requirement is not so narrow as to preclude application of res ispa where a plaintiff and others have contact with the instrumentality. Here, the coffee pot was in Speedway's exclusive control because- even though Young and others could use it-Speedway maintained the coffee pot within its store and it was placed there by Speedway for customers to use. Speedway cannot escape liability for the coffee pot by simply saying that the coffee pot was used by others. Moreover, the nature of the event - a coffee pot shattering upon lifting it up and pouring coffee - is not something that occurs in the absence of negligence.

         Finally, Speedway cites Hasselbach v. TG Canton, Inc., 209 Mich.App. 475 (1994). In Hasselbach, plaintiff was helping her elderly husband into the shower. She turned on the water. Her husband complained the water was too hot and he backed away, falling on plaintiff and breaking her leg. The plaintiff sued the landlord, the plumbing contractor, and manufactures of the water heater and thermostat, asserting liability on the grounds that there was a sudden surge of hot water. The court of appeals found that res ipsa did not apply because

a possible explanation of the events leading up to this accident is that plaintiff, attempting to turn down the hot water, actually turned the hot water up. The fact that plaintiff denies having turned the hot water up does not change the fact that the ...

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