Rollins v. Avey

Decision Date30 November 1956
Citation296 S.W.2d 214
PartiesPaul J. ROLLINS et al., as Administratrix of the Estate of B. F. Burton, Deceased, Appellants, v. Edward W. AVEY, Individually and as Trustee under Will of W. S. Avey, Deceased, d/b/a W. S. Avey Company, et al., Appellees.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court — District of Kentucky

Noah J. Geveden, Wickliffe, Reed & Hines, Paducah, for appellants.

Flavious Martin, Mayfield, Charles A. Williams, George R. Effinger, Wheeler & Marshall, Paducah, for appellees.

CLAY, Commissioner.

This suit was brought to recover damages for personal injuries and destruction of property caused by an explosion which destroyed the home of the plaintiff appellants. Joined as defendants were the manufacturer of a gas floor furnace, the wholesaler, the seller, the installer and others. The trial court directed a verdict for all of the defendants on the ground that the furnace was not shown to have caused the accident.

The explosion took place 30 or 40 minutes after a new gas floor furnace had been installed in plaintiffs' residence. Plaintiff, Mrs. Rollins, was operating an electric vacuum cleaner in the living room where the furnace had been installed. Suddenly there was a terrific explosion which impelled her, along with the furnace, to the ceiling. Her father, who was in the basement, was badly burned at the same time. The house immediately caught fire and was completely destroyed. There was no evidence that the furnace itself had exploded or was destroyed.

At the time of the ocurrence there were three other gas appliances in the house which were in operating condition. There was an automatic gas water heater in the basement, a range in the kitchen and a gas heater in one of the rooms. The fuel to these outlets was supplied from a different butane source than that of the furnace.

Plaintiffs' claims are based upon negligence and breach of warranty. It is their contention that under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur they were entitled to go to the jury on the question of whether or not the furnace was defectively manufactured or was negligently installed. The difficulty with their position is that their proof did not identify the furnace or its installation as the immediate cause of the explosion. Plaintiffs admit in their brief that 'direct proof of the precise cause of the explosion is unavailable'. This deficiency is fatal to their claims.

The only causal fact proved was that there was an explosion, obviously resulting from the presence of gas in the house. It is true that the new gas operated furnace had just been installed, and it is certainly possible that its defective condition or improper installation may have allowed gas to escape. On the other hand, it would be just as reasonable to infer that the condition which engendered the explosion was created by or attributable to the existence or operation of the other gas appliances in the house.

Plaintiffs would have us apply the doctine of res ipsa loquitur as a substitute for proof of the instrumentality bringing about the explosion. This would extend the doctrine beyond its permissible scope. The rule creates an inference of negligence arising from an identifiable event. It assumes that the instrumental cause of the accident has been established.

Here there is no such proof. Plaintiffs' claims are based on the contention that the instrumental cause of the explosion can be inferred from the installation of the gas furnace and that defendants' negligence (or breach of warranty) may be inferred from the nature of the occurrence. Plaintiffs do not sustain the burden of proof by the compounding of inferences. As stated in Le Sage v. Pitts, 311 Ky. 155, 223 S.W.2d 347, 352:

'An inference may be drawn from a clearly established fact,...

To continue reading

Request your trial
11 cases
  • Grings v. Great Plains Gas Co.
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • August 31, 1967
    ...before a causal connection can be made to the negligent acts. Rauch v. Des Moines Electric Co., 206 Iowa 309, 218 N.W. 340; Rollins v. Avery, Ky., 296 S.W.2d 214; Emigh v. Andrews, 164 Kan. 732, 191 P.2d 901. There is no direct proof that the tube and compression nut were not properly conne......
  • Beverly Hills Fire Litigation, In re
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • July 21, 1982
    ...the jury had no method to determine that aluminum rather than copper wiring failed. They thus liken the present case to Rollins v. Avey, 296 S.W.2d 214 (Ky.1956). In Rollins, plaintiff had a furnace installed in her living room. Thirty or forty minutes thereafter, a gas explosion occurred i......
  • Carnevale v. Smith
    • United States
    • Rhode Island Supreme Court
    • August 15, 1979
    ...and defendants' negligence relative to that cause. Russo v. G. W. Gooden, Inc., 108 R.I. at 360, 275 A.2d at 269. See Rollins v. Avey, 296 S.W.2d 214, 216 (Ky.1956); Manley v. New York Telephone Co., 303 N.Y. 18, 25-26, 100 N.E.2d 113, 116 (1951). Carnevale correctly observes that the factf......
  • K.H. v. Cabinet for Health & Family Servs.
    • United States
    • Kentucky Court of Appeals
    • December 22, 2011
    ...758, 760 (Ky.1966). A conclusion based on multiple levels of inference does not rise above the level of mere speculation. Rollins v. Avey, 296 S.W.2d 214, 216 (Ky.1956), citing Le Sage v. Pitts, 311 Ky. 155, 223 S.W.2d 347, 352 (Ky.1949). In this case, the trial court's finding of neglect i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT