Contractor denies liability, seeks to dismiss suit alleging woman fell through hole in floor

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Apr 11, 2017

A contractor argues that a woman’s own negligence caused her injuries when she fell through a hole in the floor while he was working at a construction site.

Robyn O’Donnell filed the complaint on Dec. 29 against Ryan Shelton.

In her complaint, O’Donnell claims she was a business invitee on the premises where Shelton was working when she allegedly fell through a hole in the floor that was covered with soft plastic.

She alleges Shelton failed to provide warning of the dangerous condition.

Shelton answered the complaint on March 6 through attorneys John Cunningham and Daniel Hasenstab of Brown & James in Belleville.

He argues that the plaintiff’s alleged injuries were caused by her own negligence or carelessness for failing to keep a careful lookout and failing to exercise reasonable care while walking on the premises.

O’Donnell responded to the defendant’s affirmative defenses on March 10 through attorneys Andrew Toennies and Rodney Fourez of Lashly & Baer in St. Louis.

Shelton also filed a motion to dismiss count II, which seeks to recover on the basis of res ipsa loquitur.

“However, res ipsa loquitur is inapplicable and unnecessary in this case because there is sufficient evidence available to determine whether defendant was negligent, and plaintiff’s alleged injury could have occurred without the negligence of defendant,” the motion states.

The motion argues that res ipsa loquitur is not a cause of action in itself but is an evidentiary tool used to infer a breach of duty in a negligence suit when direct evidence about the accident cannot be ascertained.

Res ipsa loquitur is not an alternative to negligence which can be invoked in a typical negligence action,” the motion states. “It only applies when the plaintiff can prove an injury, but must rely on a circumstantial inference to show how the injury occurred. To the contrary, where a party is able to obtain direct evidence of the cause of the injury, there is no need for an inference of negligence.”

Shelton argues that people witnessed the accident and O’Donnell was able to testify about the incident.

He also argues that res ipsa loquitur is not applicable because the alleged injury could occur without negligence by a defendant.

“Plaintiff has presented no reason for the application of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine because the allegation, falling through a hole, is not an event that typically occurs only if a defendant is negligent. It is equally plausible that plaintiff was not paying attention to her surroundings,” the motion states.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 16-L-679

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Brown & James, PC Lashly & Baer St. Clair County Circuit Court

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