Larson v. St. Francis Hotel Case Brief

Summary of Larson v. St. Francis Hotel, 83 Cal. App. 2d 210; Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division One [1948]

Facts: On V-J Day, August 14, 1945, many San Franciscans were celebrating and acting exuberantly. On that day, plaintiff stepped out from defendant hotel’s marquee and was knocked unconscious, sustaining injuries when a heavy stuffed armchair fell from the sky. Although there were several individuals in the immediate area, no witnesses saw where the chair came from, nor was there any identification showing the chair as belonging to the hotel. The trial court, however, felt that it could be reasonably inferred that the chair came from the hotel.

Plaintiff sued for damages under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

History: The Superior Court of the City andCounty of San Francisco (California) granted defendant’s motion of nonsuit, stating that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur did not apply. Plaintiff appealed.

Issue: Under the circumstances as shown, does the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur apply?

Ruling: No. The Court of Appeal of California affirmed the judgment of nonsuit.

Rule/Analysis: In order for a plaintiff to prove res ipsa loquitur, she must prove three elements: (1) there was an accident; (2) the thing or instrumentality which caused the accident was under the exclusive control and management of the defendant; and (3) the accident was such that in the ordinary course of events, the defendant using ordinary care, the accident would not have happened. In this case, two of the three elements were found to be lacking.

Summary: The court of appeals felt that a hotel does not have exclusive control over its furniture and that its guests have, at least, partial control. More than likely, the chair would still have been thrown out the window [this fact is reasonably assumed, even though there were no witnesses to this event] even with the hotel using ordinary care. It would be impractical to expect a hotel to keep guests and visitors from “misbehaving" – it would almost require a guard to be placed in every room. Therefore, since two of the three elements are not present in this case, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur does not apply and the court of appeals affirmed the judgment of nonsuit.

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