When Houston residents go to a restaurant for dinner, they expect to be well treated while they enjoy their food. They certainly do not expect that the ceiling of the restaurant will collapse on them as they eat. Unhappily, a Houston woman had just that experience at the Downtown Aquarium in Houston.
The woman and her husband were sitting at a table in the restaurant when a portion of the restaurant’s roof collapsed and fell on the woman. Witnesses said that the woman appeared to be experiencing a great deal of pain and that blood was flowing down her arms.
The deputy chief of the Houston Fire Department noted that the restaurant had a pool above that portion of the restaurant and that the weight of the water may have contributed to the collapse.
The restaurant owners had crews clean up the rubble by 10 p.m. that evening. The pool area was closed to customers, but the remainder of the restaurant was open for business the next day.
Most Texans understand that fault for an accident that causes an injury must be proved by the plaintiff based on the evidence. In this case, however, the injured couple probably have no first-hand information about the identity of the party whose negligence caused the roof to collapse. In such cases, as in many other similar cases, the doctrine of “res ipsa loquitur” can be invoked to create a presumption of negligence. In Texas, the court can rule that the facts of an occurrence warrant an inference of negligent conduct that must be rebutted by the defendant. To apply the principle of res ipsa loquitur, the court must make four findings:
- Agency or instrumentality was in control of the defendant at the time of the occurrence
- Incident was of a type that does not generally happen in the absence of negligence
- Defendant had or should have had superior knowledge
- Plaintiff did not contribute to the cause of the accident
The facts in this case indicate that a trial in court would be justified in applying the rule of res ipsa loquitur and shifting the burden of proof to the defendant.
Valuable advice from a personal injury lawyer
Res ipsa loquitur is a technical legal rule that has many exceptions. Anyone who has suffered an injury under similar circumstances may wish to consult an experienced personal injury attorney for an evaluation of the evidence and an opinion on whether the rule of res ipsa loquitur can be successfully invoked to shift the burden of proof to the defendant.