In 1944 The Supreme Court of California issued a landmark opinion in the case of Escola v. Coca-Cola Bottling Company. The case presented facts and legal questions that remain relevant to personal injury law today.
While stocking glass bottles of Coca-Cola in the refrigerator at a restaurant she worked in, one spontaneously exploded in Gladys Escola’s hand. The broken bottle deeply severed nerves and muscles in her thumb and palm.
Escola sued Coca-Cola for negligence to recover damages for her injury. She was unable to introduce the broken bottle as evidence in trial because it was thrown away after the accident. A Coca-Cola delivery driver testified he saw other bottles similarly explode, but he could not explain why.
The Legal Arguments
Escola was unable to describe what Coca-Cola specifically did that was negligent in causing her injury. Instead, she applied the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, which presumes negligence without direct evidence if the defendant had control of whatever caused the injury.
The jury’s verdict was in favor of Escola, but Coca-Cola appealed. The company claimed res ipsa loquitur did not factually apply in this case. Coca-Cola did not control the bottle at the time it injured Escola. The bottle had long traveled down the stream of commerce since it was last in Coca-Cola’s factory.
On appeal, the Supreme Court of California observed that bottles do not normally explode, and no evidence suggested the delivery driver or Escola caused the explosion. The negligent act, therefore, had to occur at the time of bottling at Coca-Cola’s factory, where it had control over the bottle. Therefore, res ipsa loquitur properly applied, and the jury could find the company liable.
The case is important because it preserved the right of consumers to recover from corporate negligence in the era of mass production. Sam & Ash, LLP agree with the spirit of this case and we are dedicated to doing whatever it takes for our clients to get What’s Right. If you’ve been unfairly injured due to the negligence of another and want to discuss your case for free, call us any time at 1 (800) 304-2000.