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October 16, 1974


Appeal, No. 290, Jan. T., 1973, from order of Superior Court, Oct. T., 1972, Nos. 1129 and 1646, affirming judgment of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, March T., 1962, No. 1066, in case of Creston Gilbert, a minor by his parent and natural guardian, and James Gilbert v. Korvette's, Inc. and Otis Elevator Co. Order affirmed. 603


William G. Klenk, II, with him Sidkoff, Pincus, Greenberg, Wapner & Golden, for appellant.

William L. Meritz, for Creston Gilbert, appellee.

Peter P. Liebert, 3rd, with him Harry A. Short, Jr., Thomas J. Finarelli and Liebert, Short, Fitzpatrick & Lavin, for Otis Elevator Co., appellee.

Before Jones, C.j., Eagen, O'brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ.

Author: Roberts

[ 457 Pa. Page 603]


Three-year-old Creston Gilbert, in the company of his grandfather and sister, was riding an Otis escalator in a Korvette's department store. At the bottom of the escalator, Creston attempted to alight, but his foot became caught in the step and was pulled into the comb plate. As a consequence, young Creston lost part of his left great toe and suffered general disfiguration and deformity of the foot.

Subsequently, an action for negligence was brought against Korvette's, Inc., which owned and operated the escalator, and Otis Elevator Co., which manufactured, installed, and by contract undertook, in its judgment,

[ 457 Pa. Page 604]

    to regularly and systematically examine, adjust, repair, replace, and otherwise service and maintain the escalator.*fn1 The case was submitted to the jury with an instruction on res ipsa loquitur, and verdicts against both defendants were returned. Each defendant appealed to the Superior Court. That court affirmed as to Korvette's but, believing the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was erroneously applied against Otis, ordered a new trial for that defendant.*fn2 This Court granted Korvette's petition for allowance of appeal*fn3 limited, however, to a determination whether the case against Otis was properly submitted to the jury on res ipsa loquitur.*fn4 For reasons different than those advanced by the Superior Court, we affirm the award of a new trial to defendant Otis.*fn5


The Latin expression "res ipsa loquitur" originated as a casual utterance during argument by Chief Baron Pollock in Byrne v. Boadle, 2 H. & C. 722, 159 Eng. Rep.

[ 457 Pa. Page 605299]

(Ex. 1863). There, a barrel of flour fell from a window of defendant's warehouse, striking a passing pedestrian. Despite his inability to show how or why the barrel rolled out the window, the pedestrian-plaintiff was permitted to recover upon a showing that the defendant was in possession of the warehouse. In effect, the case held merely that both negligence and causation may be established by circumstantial evidence. If the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, and if the circumstances indicated that the defendant breached that duty causing injuries, the plaintiff, according to Chief Baron Pollock, could recover. Res ipsa loquitur, therefore, in its origin involved nothing more than a commonsense appraisal of the probative force of circumstantial evidence.

Although res ipsa loquitur was conceived as a shorthand statement of the evidentiary rule allowing negligence to be established by circumstantial proof, confusion developed in this Commonwealth and elsewhere*fn6 concerning the availability and effect of this "doctrine."*fn7 As Dean Prosser observed, res ipsa loquitur early "became involved... in cases of injuries to passengers at the hands of carriers, with the aftermath of an older decision [ Christie v. Griggs, 2 Camp. 79, 170 Eng. Rep. 1088 (N.P. 1809)] which had held that the carrier had the burden of proving that it had not been negligent. The two principles, one concerned with the sufficiency of circumstantial evidence, the other of the burden of proof, gradually became confused and intermingled; and from this fusion there developed an uncertain 'doctrine' of res ipsa loquitur, which has been the source of so much trouble to the courts that the

[ 457 Pa. Page 606]

    use of the phrase itself has become a definite obstacle to any clear thought, and it might better be discarded entirely." W. Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts § 39, at 213 (4th ed. 1971) (footnotes omitted); see Restatement (Second) of Torts § 328D, comments a, b (1965); 9 J. Wigmore, Evidence § 2509, at 378 (3d ed. 1940).

Similarly, the evidentiary use of res ipsa loquitur became associated with a related but separate problem - the nature and extent of the substantive duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. The scope of a defendant's control of an activity or instrumentality is a factor which may relate both to the question of his duty and to the propriety of inferring negligence from particular circumstances. However, the dual importance of control in tort law confounded the evidentiary principle of res ipsa loquitur with the question of substantive duty. Further uncertainty was thereby created.

In Pennsylvania, this confusion among evidentiary, substantive, and procedural questions obscured the meaning of res ipsa loquitur. This confusion led our courts at an earlier stage of jurisprudential development to restrict the use of the Latin phrase "res ipsa loquitur" to those cases in which the defendant owed the plaintiff the "highest degree of care."*fn8 Included in this class of defendants were owners and operators of

[ 457 Pa. Page 607]

    common carriers,*fn9 elevators,*fn10 and escalators,*fn11 as well as suppliers of electrical power.*fn12

However, the considerations in determining the nature and extent of substantive tort duty are not necessarily the same as those underlying the evidentiary use of res ipsa loquitur. Thus, the degree of danger threatened by a particular activity may, for example, be an important reason for subjecting electric companies to the highest degree of care, but it may have relatively slight bearing on whether negligence or causation may be inferred from the circumstances of a particular electrical accident.

Our cases, therefore, have tended to constrict the types of cases in which circumstantial evidence can be used to establish either negligence or causation. For example, if a barrel fell on a pedestrian passing the defendant's warehouse, res ipsa loquitur as previously formulated in Pennsylvania would be inapplicable because the defendant owes only an "ordinary" duty of care. Cf. Rucinski v. Cohn, 297 Pa. 105, 146 A. 445 (1929).*fn13

Having limited the use of the Latinism "res ipsa loquitur" to a small class of cases, earlier Pennsylvania tribunals - often stating that res ipsa loquitur does not apply - have achieved the same result as did Chief

[ 457 Pa. Page 608]

Baron Pollock by simply stating that juries may infer negligence when the evidence is circumstantial.*fn14 To the same end,*fn15 other Pennsylvania courts have utilized a unique sibling doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, "exclusive control."*fn16

Unfortunately, even the cases using the formula of exclusive control have failed fully to follow Chief Baron Pollock's precepts. They have lost sight of the fact that exclusive control, like the original statement "res ipsa loquitur," is merely a recognition that circumstantial evidence may be appropriate and adequate proof in a negligence action. A number of arbitrary requirements*fn17 have been imposed by earlier cases, confining

[ 457 Pa. Page 609]

    exclusive control narrowly*fn18 rather than recognizing it as a principle generally permitting a reasonable inference of fault to arise from the circumstances.

In Pennsylvania at least three separate companion "doctrines" of circumstantial proof have judicially evolved - res ipsa loquitur, exclusive control, and an untitled evidentiary rule of simple circumstantial evidence. The coexistence of these three means of circumstantially proving negligence and causation obscured "a simple matter of circumstantial evidence"*fn19 commonly known elsewhere as res ipsa loquitur. In its place highly formalistic distinctions unrelated to the functional question of the probative value of circumstantial proof were substituted.


The instant case is a clear example of the difficulty of applying this labyrinth of formal distinctions. Realistically, would a charge elaborating finely-spun distinctions - highest degree of care, ordinary care, res ipsa loquitur, exclusive control, presumption, inference - give a jury the necessary "guide and compass" with which to judge the acts of the defendants? And would

[ 457 Pa. Page 610]

    not a charge reflecting such distinctions be of less than helpful guidance, particularly where the probative force of the circumstantial proof was, in the trial court's judgment, at least as strong against one defendant as against the other? Faced with a single accident attributable to the negligence of either Korvette's, Otis, or both, the trial court was unable to perceive any logical reason to treat the two defendants differently.*fn20

The Superior Court, however, by focusing on a formalistic distinction based on earlier confusion between substantive duty and the evidentiary worth of offered proof, held that different evidentiary rules applied to each defendant because it found substantive differences in the respective duties owed. According to that court, Korvette's negligence was provable by res ipsa loquitur because Korvette's was the owner of a common carrier and therefore owed the "highest degree of care." Finding no precedent holding one who services and maintains an escalator (duties Otis assumed by contract*fn21) to owe the same highest degree of care, the Superior Court held that res ipsa loquitur was inapplicable in the case against Otis. Exclusive control was held to be the appropriate rule.*fn22 Therefore,

[ 457 Pa. Page 611]

    in its judgment, the trial court committed reversible error by charging the jury that a presumption of negligence could be drawn.*fn23

As we have stated, historic association of questions of substantive duty with the use of circumstantial proof has previously resulted in unnecessary befuddlement of a simple legal proposition. Further endeavoring to define the contorted relationship between duty and proof of negligence can only add to existing confusion. This we will not do.*fn24

Instead, we believe the time has come to reject our earlier duty-oriented doctrines of circumstantial proof and replace them with a single doctrine based on appropriate evidentiary concerns. Res ipsa loquitur is neither a rule of procedure nor one of substantive tort law. It is only a shorthand expression for circumstantial proof of negligence - a rule of evidence.


The American Law Institute articulates the desired evidentiary rule in section 328D of its Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965). Careful review and considered reflection convince us that the evidentiary rule enunciated in the Restatement is a far more realistic, logical, and orderly approach to circumstantial proof of negligence than the multiple doctrines formerly employed in Pennsylvania. Here, as in other cases,*fn25 this

[ 457 Pa. Page 612]

Court accepts the persuasive authority of the Restatement, and we adopt section 328D*fn26 as the law of this Commonwealth.*fn27

Section 328D, titled Res Ipsa Loquitur, provides:

"(1) It may be inferred that harm suffered by the plaintiff is caused by negligence of the defendant when

"(a) the event is of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence;

"(b) other responsible causes, including the conduct of the plaintiff and third persons, are sufficiently eliminated by the evidence; and

"(c) the indicated negligence is within the scope of the defendant's duty to the plaintiff.

"(2) It is the function of the court to determine whether the inference may reasonably be drawn by the jury, or whether it must necessarily be drawn.

"(3) It is the function of the jury to determine whether the inference is to be drawn in any case where different conclusions may reasonably be reached." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 328D (1965). See also McCormick's Handbook of the Law of Evidence § 342 (2d ed. E. Cleary 1972). To the extent our prior decisions are inconsistent with section 328D, they are no longer to be followed.

Section 328D not only abrogates formalistic distinctions based on substantive duty, but also eliminates another complication inherent in our prior rules. Formerly, it had been stated in some decisions that "exclusive" management or control by the defendant of the injury-producing instrumentality was a prerequisite to res ipsa loquitur or exclusive control.*fn28

The Restatement rule, however, disavows the requirement of exclusive control.*fn29 A party's negligence

[ 457 Pa. Page 614]

    may be inferred when "other responsible causes... are sufficiently eliminated by the evidence." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 328D(1)(b) (1965). Exclusive control may eliminate other causes,*fn30 but the critical inquiry is not control but whether a particular defendant is the responsible cause of the injury. Responsibility, of course, may be shared by two or more defendants. See W. Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts § 39, at 221 (4th ed. 1971).*fn31 Consequently, if responsibility

[ 457 Pa. Page 615]

    is vested in and shared by two or more parties, each may be subjected to liability under the rule we adopt. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 328D, comment g, illustration 8 (1965);*fn32 Annot., 38 A.L.R.2d 905 (1954); 58 Am. Jur. 2d Negligence § 503 (1971).


In this case, it is clear that Otis as well as Korvette's owed Creston Gilbert a duty of care. Evans v. Otis Elevator Co., 403 Pa. 13, 168 A.2d 573 (1961). Moreover, it cannot be disputed that this accident would not have occurred in the absence of negligence. Therefore, if the circumstances of the accident

[ 457 Pa. Page 616]

    sufficiently eliminate "other responsible causes," it may be inferred that the harm suffered by Creston Gilbert was caused by the negligence of Otis, Korvette's, or both.

Here, the issue of responsibility was submitted to the jury. The jury found that both Korvette's and Otis were responsible for the safe operation of the escalator and that they were both negligent. Responsibility or "control" are factual questions; as such they are proper subjects for jury determination. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 328C (1965).

In evidence was the maintenance contract between Otis and Korvette's. That contract, prepared by Otis, repeatedly states that Otis' judgment governs questions of maintenance and care of the escalator and replacement of worn or unsafe parts.*fn33 Although Korvette's

[ 457 Pa. Page 617]

    had day-to-day responsibility for the safe function of the escalator, Otis by contract assumed and committed to its judgment the responsibility of regularly and systematically inspecting, servicing, repairing and maintaining for the safety of Korvette's customers the escalator it manufactured, sold, and installed. Given these record facts, this Court can only conclude, as have other courts which have examined similar facts, that the jury's finding of joint responsibility and joint negligence is supported by the evidence. Accord, Domany v. Otis Elevator Co., 369 F.2d 604 (6th Cir. 1966) (Ohio law); Vandagriff v. J. C. Penney Co., 228 Cal.App.2d 579, 39 Cal. Rptr. 671 (1964); Enslein v. Hudson & M.R.R., 8 Misc. 2d 87, 165 N.Y.S.2d 630 (1957), aff'd as to liability and rev'd as to damages, 6 App. Div. 2d 833, 176 N.Y.S.2d 70 (1958), aff'd, 6 N.Y.2d 723, 158 N.E.2d 504, 185 N.Y.S.2d 810 (1959); see Greet v. Otis Elevator Co., 187 A.2d 896 (D.C. App. 1963) (elevator); Bond v. Otis Elevator Co., 388 S.W.2d 681 (Tex. 1965) (same). See also Rogers v. Dorchester Associates, 32 N.Y.2d 553, 300 N.E.2d 403, 347 N.Y.S.2d 22 (1973).

This was a proper case for negligence to be proved circumstantially under section 328D. The record evidence is sufficient to sustain a factual inference that plaintiff's injuries were caused by the negligent conduct of both defendants. Nevertheless, we must affirm the order of the Superior Court granting Otis a new trial.


To this point, we have not discussed the procedural effect of circumstantially proving fault. Due to the

[ 457 Pa. Page 618]

    previously-noted earlier confusion between circumstantial proof and an ancient common-law rule requiring carriers to prove freedom from negligence,*fn34 courts in this Commonwealth have generally stated that our former res ipsa loquitur rule generates a rebuttable presumption of negligence while exclusive control creates only a permissible inference. See 2 G. Henry, Pennsylvania Evidence § 675 (1953); but cf. Ten Ten Chestnut Street Corp. v. Quaker State Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 186 Pa. Superior Ct. 585, 593, 142 A.2d 306, 309 (1958) (Exclusive control "shifts to the defendant the burden of going forward with the evidence."). This distinction, like those between our former rules concerning the availability of circumstantial proof, is based not on the probative strength of particular circumstantial evidence, but instead on the substantive duty of care of the named defendant.

When res ipsa loquitur is properly regarded under section 328D as a simple matter of circumstantial proof, it cannot realistically be viewed differently from any other method of circumstantially proving facts in issue. See McCormick's Handbook of the Law of Evidence § 342, at 805 (2d ed. E. Cleary 1972). Circumstantial evidence in all negligence cases therefore can create only a permissible inference of fault "unless the facts are so compelling that no reasonable man could reject it." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 328D, comment m (1965).

Here, the trial court, over Otis' timely specific objection charged that the circumstances of the accident raised "a true rebuttable presumption" that the accident was due to Otis' negligence. This was error. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 328D(3) (1965).

Consequently, we conclude that the Superior Court's award of a new trial to Otis was proper and affirm its

[ 457 Pa. Page 619]

    order.*fn35 Upon retrial, the court will be governed by section 328D.


Order affirmed.


I would affirm the order of the Superior Court for the reason that the trial court erred in applying the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to Otis Elevator. The majority, however, has discarded the cognate doctrines recognized in this Commonwealth of res ipsa loquitur and exclusive control without offering any compelling reason for doing so. Additionally, the majority's resolution of the case is not responsive to the only question properly before the Court, i.e., whether a company which manufactures and services an escalator may be held liable under the theory of res ipsa loquitur to a plaintiff who is a passenger on the escalator in the store of the owner-operator.*fn1 Furthermore, such a drastic departure from long-standing rules of law should only come about following oral argument and the submission of briefs on the advisability of such action. Finally, a change in the rules of circumstantial evidence which were developed to aid plaintiffs in tort cases should not be effected in the context of a case which at this stage involves a dispute between joint defendants whose rights and duties inter se are defined by contract.

Contrary to the assertions of the majority, I believe that the Pennsylvania doctrines of res ipsa loquitur and exclusive control are based on appropriate evidentiary concerns and the distinctions between the two are related to the functional question of the probative value of the circumstantial evidence under the conditions in which the application of each doctrine is appropriate. In order for the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to become applicable in Pennsylvania three conditions must co-exist: (1) the defendant must owe to the plaintiff a duty of the highest degree of care; (2) the instrumentality which caused the accident must be within the exclusive control of the defendant; and (3) the occurrence must be something which ordinarily would not happen if the defendant had exercised the high degree of care which the law imposed upon him. See generally 2 G. Henry, Pennsylvania Evidence § 675 (1953). The effect of the application of this doctrine is to create a rebuttable presumption of liability on the defendant and to shift the burden of proof to the defendant to establish that the accident occurred notwithstanding his exercise of due care. Norris v. Philadelphia Electric Co., 334 Pa. 161, 5 A.2d 114 (1939).

The operation of the doctrine of exclusive control depends on the existence of the following elements: (1) the instrumentality which caused the accident must have been under the exclusive control of, or made or manufactured by the defendant; and (2) the accident or injury is one which would ordinarily not happen if the defendant had exercised due care, or had made or manufactured the article with due care; and (3) the evidence of the cause of the injury or accident is not equally available to both parties, but is exclusively accessible to and within the possession of the defendant; and (4) the likelihood of harm to plaintiff or one of his class could reasonably have been foreseen and prevented by the exercise of due care; and (5) the

[ 457 Pa. Page 621]

    general principles of negligence have not heretofore been applied to such facts.*fn2 Izzi v. Philadelphia Transportation Co., 412 Pa. 559, 195 A.2d 784 (1963). The procedural effect of this doctrine is to raise an inference of negligence and to shift to the defendant the burden of going forward with the evidence, thus taking all such cases to the jury. Aside from the fact that the doctrine of exclusive control is not limited in application to those cases in which the defendant owes a duty of the highest degree of care, the practical distinction between the two doctrines applied in Pennsylvania is that res ipsa loquitur gives rise to a factual presumption of negligence from the mere occurrence of an accident, whereas the exclusive control rule gives rise to an inference of negligence, not from the accident itself, but from the circumstances under which the injury occurred. See Kotal v. Goldberg, 375 Pa. 397, 100 A.2d 630 (1953). The distinctions which have given rise to two separate doctrines in Pennsylvania developed not as a result of confusion by the courts, but from the recognition that the probative force of the circumstantial evidence is stronger in cases involving common carriers where the issue is slight negligence than in

[ 457 Pa. Page 622]

    cases where ordinary negligence is the controlling substantive standard.

As previously stated, the first prerequisite for the application of res ipsa loquitur in this Commonwealth is that the defendant owe the duty of the highest degree of care. As this Court noted in Ambrose v. Western Maryland Ry. Co., 368 Pa. 1, 11, 81 A.2d 895, 900 (1951): "The rule of res ipsa loquitur has been limited in its application by the courts of Pennsylvania to cases involving injury to passengers through transportation operations of common carriers or to patrons of utilities dispensing a service which, if not properly managed and controlled, may readily prove dangerous," citing from Sierocinski v. E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 118 F.2d 531, 535 (3d Cir. 1941). For purposes of our res ipsa loquitur rule, escalators have been held to be common carriers. Petrie v. Kaufman & Baer Co., 291 Pa. 211, 139 A. 878 (1927). See also McKnight v. S. S. Kresge Co., 285 Pa. 489, 132 A. 575 (1926) (elevators held to be common carriers). The impact of the holdings that elevators and escalators were common carriers is that the owners and operators thereof are to be held to a duty of the highest degree of care and that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur may be applied against them.

At no time, however, has this Court, or any court to my knowledge, held that the conduct of a manufacturer or service contractor of an instrumentality which is a common carrier is governed by the standard of the highest degree of care. I readily recognize on the authority of Evans v. Otis Elevator Co., 403 Pa. 13, 168 A.2d 573 (1961) that Otis Elevator Company owed a tort duty to the plaintiff in this case. Similarly, however, on the same authority it is clear that the duty owed by a service contractor to third parties is uniformly one of ordinary care and does not vacillate to

[ 457 Pa. Page 623]

    conform with the standard of care which the law has placed on the other party to the contract. Since Otis Elevator did not owe a duty of the highest degree of care, it was improper for the trial court to charge that the jury could presume negligence from the occurrence of the accident under the theory of res ipsa loquitur.

This Court has historically been loath to extend the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and the concomitant shifting of the burden of proof. See, e.g., Norris v. Philadelphia Electric Co., 334 Pa. 161, 5 A.2d 114 (1939). I am in complete accord with this salutary policy. Whether we speak in terms of degrees of negligence or not, human experience supports different treatment where a different duty is owed. Nor is a plaintiff prejudiced by such different treatment, but rather he is benefited. The doctrine of exclusive control remains available against tortfeasors not owing a duty of the highest degree of care, and in the majority of jurisdictions which do not distinguish in the application of their res ipsa loquitur doctrines an inference of negligence is permitted against all, but a presumption is permitted against none. Clearly a plaintiff in Pennsylvania is already in a favored position. Additionally, in the instant case, the plaintiff did have the benefit of the application of res ipsa loquitur against one defendant.

An additional issue raised in the Superior Court, and one not properly resolved there, concerns the question of joint exclusive control. The purpose of the requirement of exclusive control in both the res ipsa loquitur and exclusive control doctrines is that for either doctrine to be operative against a defendant, the plaintiff must affirmatively eliminate all other likely causes of the accident and other likely responsible persons. Proof that a defendant was in exclusive control of the instrumentality causing injury is thus sufficient to allow the doctrine to apply against that defendant,

[ 457 Pa. Page 624]

    assuming the other conditions are met. Although it is by no means clear, I agree with the Superior Court that our law permits a charge on joint exclusive control in the case of two or more defendants. Such a charge is limited in Pennsylvania, however, to those situations where the control of one defendant is attributable to the other.*fn3 Thus, in the present situation, assuming a proper charge, the jury could have found both Otis Elevator and Korvette's liable only if they found that Otis Elevator was in exclusive control.*fn4

Since the case was not even submitted to the jury on the doctrine of exclusive control, my inclination would be to reverse the trial court's refusal to enter judgment n.o.v. in favor of Otis Elevator. However, since Otis Elevator did not appeal the Superior Court order granting a new trial, I would affirm that order.*fn5

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