Colmenares Vivas v. Sun Alliance Insurance Co. – Case Brief
Colmenares Vivas v. Sun Alliance Ins. Co., 807 F.2d 1102 (1st Cir. 1986).
Facts: Colmenares and his wife (P) fell and sustained personal injuries when an escalator they were riding in the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport stopped suddenly. Colmenares sued the airport’s insurance provider, Sun Alliance Insurance Company (D). The airport joined Westinghouse Electric Corporation as a third party, claiming that it was responsible for maintaining the escalator.
The trial court granted the airport’s motion for a directed verdict, holding that there was no evidence of negligence. The court further stated that res ipsa loquitur did not apply because the airport did not have exclusive control over the escalator. Colmenares appealed, contending that the court was in error in failing to apply res ipsa loquitur.
Issue: Can a party responsible for the safety of its facilities avoid liability by delegating that responsibility to a third party?
Holding and Rule (Bownes): No. A party responsible for the safety of its facilities may not avoid liability by delegating that responsibility to a third party.
Elements of Res Ipsa Loquitur: 1) the harm is of a kind that does not ordinarily occur in the absence of some negligence; 2) the alleged negligence is within the scope of the duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; and 3) the evidence eliminates other responsible causes including the conduct of the plaintiff and third parties.
The court held that Colmenares’ complaint established the elements of res ipsa loquitur: 1) an escalator would not suddenly stop moving absent some negligence; 2) the airport had control over its facilities and a duty to maintain them; and 3) Colmenares was not contributorily negligent. The court held that the airport need not have actual physical control over the escalator to bear liability for its malfunction; it was sufficient that the airport was ultimately responsible for it.
Dissent (Tourelia): The majority applied a strict liability standard rather than a negligence standard.
Disposition: Reversed and Remanded.