Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 94-2-25023-0. Date filed: 07/10/95. Judge signing: Hon. Richard Eadie.
Authored by Walter E. Webster. Concurring: H. Joseph Coleman, Mary K. Becker.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Webster
BAKER, C.J. - The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is applied in exceptional cases, when supported by the facts of the case and the demands of Justice. Res ipsa loquitur is a method of proof, not a separate and additional form of negligence. A plaintiff that successfully establishes the elements of res ipsa loquitur is entitled to an inference of negligence. Because such a plaintiff is, in effect, spared the necessity of establishing a complete prima facie case of negligence against the defendant, the doctrine is to be used sparingly.
Cheryl Tinder has failed to allege or prove facts warranting application of res ipsa loquitur against Nordstrom, Inc. We affirm summary judgment dismissal of Tinder's personal injury claim against Nordstrom.
Tinder was shopping at Nordstrom with her two daughters, ages four and seven. She bought a considerable number of items, enough to be "loaded" with packages. Tinder boarded the down escalator with her hands full of packages, her youngest daughter ahead of her, the older behind. Tinder was not holding the handrail when the escalator came to a sudden stop.
Apart from the sudden stop, nothing indicated that something was wrong with the escalator. Prior to the stop, her youngest daughter got off the escalator and looked up at Tinder, waiting for her to come down. Tinder's alleged injuries occurred when she reached across with her right hand and grabbed the opposite handrail to stop herself from falling.
A regular maintenance examination was performed on the escalator six days before the incident. After the incident, a maintenance specialist examined the escalator and did not find any malfunctions.
Warning signs are placed at the top of all the escalators at Nordstrom, including the one Tinder was riding. The signs warn customers to "attend to children" and to "hold handrails." Tinder does not specifically recall seeing the warning sign at the top of the escalator, however, she knew from experience that escalator riders are warned to hold the handrail and to watch their children. At the bottom of the escalator there is an emergency switch that stops the escalator.
In a summary judgment motion, the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of an issue of material fact. *fn1 If the moving party is a defendant, this burden may be met by pointing out that there is an absence of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's case. *fn2 If this initial showing is met, then the plaintiff must present evidence sufficient to raise a material question of fact regarding the essential elements of its claim. *fn3 This court reviews an order of summary judgment de novo, considering the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. *fn4
Nordstrom, as the moving party, introduced evidence that it was not negligent; evidence establishing regular maintenance of the escalator, as well as the service report made after the incident that found no malfunction. Nordstrom therefore met its burden of pointing to an absence of evidence in support of Tinder's case, and the burden shifted to Tinder to make a prima facie showing of the essential elements of her negligence claim. *fn5
Tinder argues that she is entitled to the inference of negligence established by res ipsa loquitur. Whether res ipsa loquitur is applicable is a question of law. *fn6 The doctrine recognizes that an injurious occurrence may be of such a nature "that the occurrence is of itself sufficient to establish prima facie the fact of ...