Giesing v. Schindler Elevator Corp.

Decision Date02 September 2022
Docket Number2:21-cv-4181-NKL
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Missouri


Defendant Schindler Elevator Corporation moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff Dena Giesing's claim of res ipsa loquitor negligence, stemming from her injury on an elevator installed and exclusively maintained by Schindler. See Doc. 32. As explained in detail below, because material disputes of fact preclude summary judgment and a reasonable jury could find in Ms. Giesing's favor Schindler's Motion is DENIED.[1]


Ms Giesing worked as a respiratory therapist at St. Mary's Hospital in Jefferson City, Missouri. On October 13, 2019 Ms. Giesing and a coworker used an elevator at St. Mary's. Ms. Giesing traveled with her “workstation-on-wheels” cart. When the elevator arrived, Ms. Giesing walked backwards into the elevator, pulling her cart. Ms. Giesing had one hand on each side of the cart, with her left hand inside the elevator close to her body and her right “not more than halfway toward the front of the cart.” Doc. 36 (Ms. Giesing's Response to Schindler's Statement of Material Facts), at ¶ 45. While she backed onto the elevator, Ms. Giesing's head was turned to the left as she spoke with her coworker; she was not paying attention to the elevator doors as they closed. However, she felt a sudden and intense pain in her right hand and realized that the elevator door had closed on her cart and her right hand. She then jerked her hand out of the elevator door. Once her cart was removed from the elevator doors, the doors closed and continued to the second floor. After leaving the elevator on the second floor, Ms. Giesing continued her work. However, within an hour, Ms. Giesing sought care at St. Mary's emergency department. Her fifth metacarpal bone (the bone that leads to the pinky finger) on her right hand was fractured.

The Parties dispute how much of the cart-and by extension, Ms. Giesing's right hand- remained outside the elevator when it closed. Ms. Giesing maintains that at least part of her cart remained outside of the elevator when the door closed. See Doc. 38, ¶¶ 7-13;[2] Doc. 36-9 (Giesing Dep.), at 76:5-77:15, 79:17-21.[3] She further states that part of the cart and her hand were in the elevator's threshold, that is, the portion of the elevator's entrance that is usually covered by the elevator's retracting door. The rest of Ms. Giesing's body had passed the elevator's threshold before the door shut.

Schindler suggests instead that Ms. Giesing and her cart were mostly within the elevator, but that part of her cart and hand were within the “Dead Zone” on the elevator's threshold, a two-inch section in the elevator's doorframe which is not protected by the elevator's WECO light curtain detectors. See generally Doc. 36, ¶¶ 13-17. For that to be true, none of Ms. Giesing's cart could have remained outside of the elevator. The light curtain detector has 94 non-parallel beams that span the length of the elevator's doors; if any beam is interrupted, the detectors are designed to reopen the elevator's doors. The two-inch dead zone is a standard part of the elevator's design, and it was consistent with the version of the Missouri Elevator Code in effect on the date of Ms. Giesing's injury. Schindler asserts that it performed appropriate preventative maintenance and that the elevator was functioning properly on the date of Ms. Giesing's injury; Ms. Giesing disputes both claims.

The elevator on which Ms. Giesing was injured is known as Elevator No. 8. Schindler installed Elevator No. 8 at St. Mary's and maintains an exclusive preventative maintenance contract. Per the contract, Schindler agreed to, on a periodic basis “examine, lubricate, adjust, and as needed or if usage mandates, repair, or replace Covered Components” of St. Mary's elevators. See Doc. 38, at 8, ¶ 33. Schindler-and only Schindler-had access to the elevator to conduct maintenance or repairs. Doc. 3 8, ¶ 36-37.[4] St. Mary's was specifically required to prevent others from accessing the elevator's components.

The Parties dispute the degree to which Schindler actually maintained Elevator No. 8, but agree that Schindler's technician was at St. Mary's at least four times between December 2016 and February 14, 2019. Schindler had last serviced Elevator No. 8 approximately eight months before Ms. Giesing's injury. Elevator No. 8 is also subject to inspections by the State of Missouri. It was inspected on October 8, 2018-just over a year before Ms. Giesing's injury-and in December of 2019, several months after the injury. Both times, Elevator No. 8 passed inspection and no variations or code violations were identified. Other than Ms. Giesing's injury, there have been no reported instances or allegations of Elevator No. 8 closing on a person or object, or otherwise failing to function in an ordinary manner.

St. Mary's informed Schindler of the injury the day after it occurred, on October 14, 2019. Schindler's technician, Joseph Ammons, arrived the same day and removed Elevator No. 8 from service to begin an inspection. The technician was on site at St. Mary's for approximately an hour, and his inspection included multiple tests of the WECO light curtain door detector. Doc. 36, at 22, ¶¶ 61-62. This included obstructing the elevator's light curtain detectors at multiple heights and positions in the doorframe, and for various lengths of time, to ensure that the detectors were functioning properly and that the elevator would not override the detector's signal to keep the door open if the obstruction remained for a longer period. Id. Mr. Ammons further inspected Elevator No. 8's door operator device; he identified no problems. Furthermore, Mr. Ammons tested the front and rear door torques-the force at which the elevator doors closed-and found both doors to close below the 30-pound limit. Id. at 23, ¶ 64. At the conclusion of his inspection, Mr. Ammons checked Elevator No. 8's error log, and does not recall seeing any error. At bottom, he found no evidence that elevator No. 8, or any of its components, had malfunctioned.[5]


“Summary judgment is proper if, after viewing the evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Higgins v. Union Pac. R.R., 931 F.3d 664, 669 (8th. Cir. 2019) (quotation marks and citation omitted); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). While the moving party bears the burden of establishing a lack of any genuine issues of material fact, Brunsting v. Lutsen Mountains Corp., 601 F.3d 813, 820 (8th Cir. 2010), the party opposing summary judgment “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial.” Thomas v. Corwin, 483 F.3d 516, 527 (8th Cir. 2007). The Court must enter summary judgment “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).


A. Res Ipsa Loquitor Under Missouri Law

In Missouri, res ipsa loquitor is a rule of evidence, not a cause of action. Carter v. Skelly Oil Co., 363 Mo. 570, 575 (Mo. 1952) (“Generally speaking, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur has no application to the pleadings . . . Rather is it an inference aiding in the proof.”); see also John Goldberg et al., Tort Law: Responsibilities and Redress 210 (2d ed. 2008). To make a submissible case of res ipsa negligence, a plaintiff must establish three elements: (1) the incident would not ordinarily occur in the absence of negligence; (2) the incident was caused by an instrumentality under the defendant's control; and (3) the defendant has superior knowledge about the cause of the incident.” Sides v. St. Anthony's Med. Ctr., 258 S.W.3d 811, 814 (Mo. banc 2008). The res ipsa doctrine “supplies circumstantial evidence of a breach when the plaintiff lacks the facts to plead the specific negligent conduct that constituted the breach. In effect, res ipsa loquitur carries the plaintiff over the breach hurdle.” Martin v. City of Washington, 848 S.W.2d 487, 495 (Mo. 1993); see also Niman v. Plaza House, Inc., 471 S.W.2d 207, 213 (Mo. 1971) (en banc). However, res ipsa loquitur does not relieve a plaintiff of the burden of proving duty, causation, and damages. See Lopez v. Accu-Screen, Inc., 13-04069-CV-NKL, 2013 WL 12155464, at *1 (W.D. Mo. June 19, 2013); see also Watts v. Sechler, 140 S.W.3d 232, 241 (Mo.Ct.App. 2004).

The application of res ipsa proceeds in two steps. First, the Court determines whether the doctrine should apply in the first instance. Because the first and third elements of res ipsa are pure questions of law, the Court, not the jury, must decide them. See generally Niman v. Plaza House, Inc., 471 S.W.2d 207, 212-14 (Mo. banc 1971); see also MAI 31.02(3). If the Court determines these elements are met, and that the plaintiff has offered enough evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the defendant controlled, had a right to control, or managed the instrumentality involved, the jury is instructed on the application of res ipsa. See MAI 31.02(3)

Even if a plaintiff makes a submissible case under a res ipsa theory, a jury is not required to accept the inference of negligence that it creates. Res ipsa merely creates a permissible, rebuttable inference. Green v. Plaza in Clayton Condo. Ass'n, 410 S.W.3d 272 284 (Mo.Ct.App. 2013) (quoting State ex rel. GS Technologies Operating Co., Inc. v. Pub. Serv....

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