The exclusive control doctrine is a legal principle often invoked in personal injury cases, particularly those involving negligence claims. It forms a critical component of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine, a Latin phrase that translates to “the thing speaks for itself.” Res ipsa loquitur allows a plaintiff to establish a presumption of negligence based on the very occurrence of an accident or injury and the likelihood that such events don’t typically occur in the absence of negligence. Within the context of personal injury law, the exclusive control doctrine posits that if an injury or accident occurs under circumstances where the defendant had exclusive control over the instrumentality or situation that caused the harm, and the plaintiff did not contribute to the injury in any way, the law presumes that negligence by the defendant was the cause.
Dermatossian v New York City Tr. Auth., 67 NY2d 219, centers around Joseph Dermatossian, a passenger on a New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) bus, who claimed to have suffered injuries due to a defective grab handle. A grab handle on a bus is a safety device designed to assist passengers in maintaining their balance and stability while standing or moving within the vehicle. It is typically a sturdy, handgrip-like structure that passengers can hold onto for support. Grab handles are strategically positioned throughout the bus to provide passengers with something to hold onto during sudden stops, sharp turns, or other movements that might cause imbalance.