The legal concept of res ipsa loquitur may be difficult to understand for those unfamiliar with Latin or legal terminology. This Latin phrase translates to “the thing speaks for itself.” It is important because it a rule of evidence that allows a jury to infer the existence of negligence and causation where the injury at issue is one that does not ordinarily occur in the absence of negligence. An example of when this legal doctrine is applied is in medical malpractice cases where a surgical instrument is left inside the patient’s body.
A personal injury plaintiff typically asserts that the defendant is guilty of some form of negligence, whether ordinary or gross, that caused some harm or injury. For a plaintiff to establish negligence, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a duty of reasonable care in the context of the injury-causing event. The evidence must show that this duty was violated because the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances. Further, the evidence must show that because of this breach of duty, the plaintiff suffered injury and harm.
The doctrine of res ipsa is used to determine the existence of negligence. It is important to note that not all accidents are caused by the negligence of others. Courts, therefore, do not always assume that negligence was involved when an accident occurs. A personal injury plaintiff must still establish that the defendant meets the elements of negligence.
If a personal injury plaintiff meets the test set forth by the Restatement (Second) of Torts in § 328 D, it is entitled to a jury instruction on res ipsa loquitur, which means that negligence may be inferred. Res ipsa loquitur allows a plaintiff to request that the court make assumptions of fact without direct evidence.
The test is as follows:
It may be inferred that harm suffered by the plaintiff is caused by the negligence of the defendant when
(a) the event is of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence;
(b) other responsible causes, including the conduct of the plaintiff and third persons, are sufficiently eliminated by the evidence; and
(c) the indicated negligence is within the scope of the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff.
Res ipsa loquitur requires that the plaintiff show that the defendant was in exclusive control of the instrumentality that caused the accident at the time of the accident. This negates any possibility that anyone else could have caused the accident. Also, the resulting harm must not have been the result of any fault of the plaintiff.
The result is that a plaintiff may establish a rebuttal presumption of negligence by using circumstantial evidence. Negligence is presumed because there is no other reasonable explanation for the events that occurred.
The concept is most often invoked in cases of medical malpractice, product liability, and property hazards. It is also used commonly in large-scale accidents. For example, if a train derails and kills twenty people, a fact likely to be assumed is that this type of accident would not occur but for the negligence of some party. Trains do not derail without some negligent cause.
For 115 years, Powell Law has met the needs of those who require representation in personal injury matters in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. Powell Law’s attorneys have unmatched experience assisting individuals who have suffered damages caused by the conduct of others. With Powell Law’s experience, we have unique abilities to help our clients in cases involving the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as well as local governments and municipalities. Contact Powell Law at (570) 961-0777 or visit us online. Call now for a FREE case evaluation. You don’t pay unless we win!