Frequently Asked Questions - What Does Res Ipsa Loquitur Mean?
At the epicenter of personal injury cases lies the premise that the negligence of one caused damage to another. However, just because you were a victim of an accident does not mean that your accident was caused by the negligence of someone else. You will need to prove that the defendant negligently caused your injuries. This is often quite simple to prove in auto accident cases. However, in premise liability, product liability or medical malpractice cases, for instance, it may be more difficult to produce sufficient proof of negligence to substantiate the plaintiff’s injury claim. Even though, you know for certain that the only logical explanation for the incident that caused your injuries is through the negligent behavior of another, quite often in those types of cases, direct evidence simply does not exist. In such a scenario, you would invoke Res Ipsa Loquitur.
When there is no direct evidence revealing negligence, there is a legal doctrine which allows you to use circumstantial evidence in order to establish negligence – Res Ipsa Loquitur – frequently shortened to Res Ipsa. When translated, the Latin phrase, Res Ipsa Loquitur, merely means “the thing that speaks for itself”. In legal terms however, the concept of Res Ipsa Loquitur is an evidentiary rule in tort law which permits the plaintiff (the injured party) to establish a presumption of negligence against the defendant (the at-fault party) through the use of circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is the compilation of facts which point to negligence as the logical conclusion rather than demonstrating it outright with direct evidence. Simply put, circumstantial evidence implies a fact based on other relevant information. To quickly showcase the difference of direct and circumstantial evidence, let us use the example of a murder case – although this is criminal law and therefore not related to a premise liability case, it is simply a quick and easy way to differentiate direct and circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence in that case would be videotaped footage of the murder or a confession from the murderer. While circumstantial evidence would be eye-witness testimonies from individuals who saw the alleged murderer running from the murder scene covered in blood.
Regarding tort law, in most states, there are three requirements that a plaintiff, or in most instances, their attorney, must first meet prior to a jury being allowed to make the inference that the defendant is negligent. Those requirements are as follows:
- The incident would not normally occur unless someone acted negligently;
- The evidence confirms that neither the plaintiff nor a third party caused the injury or contributed to the injury; and
- The negligence in question falls within the scope of the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff.
As mentioned above, in order for Res Ipsa Loquitur to apply to an accident, there must be no contribution by that of the plaintiff, meaning this incident occurred to no fault of your own. This doctrine also necessitates that the defendant has exclusive control and responsibility over the instrumentality or agent that caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
If you are not quite familiar with legalese, this still may be slightly difficult to understand or follow. Let us try using some real-life examples to showcase when it would be appropriate to utilize the principle of Res Ipsa Loquitur. With premise liability, product liability or medical malpractice cases, at times you may find there is no direct evidence to indicate that another person was negligent in their behavior or lack thereof. For example, if a surgeon left a foreign object inside of a patient – this would constitute an accident that ordinarily does not occur expect for failure to exercise due care. In this circumstance, Res Ipsa Loquitur would be applicable and successful in a medical malpractice. Or, say you decide to sue a vineyard for severe personal injuries sustained when a barrel of wine flew out of a window and hit you. Although there is no direct evidence that the vineyard owner’s negligence caused your injuries, there is no other explanation as an incident of that magnitude does not usually occur unless someone acted negligently. You did not cause your injuries by simply walking on their premises. And, finally, the owner has a duty to ensure that wine barrels don’t fall out of their windows and strike the patrons. Hence, this accident would meet the three elements of Res Ipsa Loquitur. Another example wherein Res Ipsa Loquitur would be utilized would be if an e-cigarette exploded in your mouth. The defendant, the e-cigarette company, would have exclusive control over the instrumentality of that device. So, if their device suddenly exploded, it would mean there was negligence in the assembly or creation of that product. And, if you were using the product exactly as directed in their product manual, then there would be no negligence placed on the plaintiff. Therefore, this scenario would meet the requirement of Res Ipsa Loquitur as the accident would not have occurred if not for some type of negligence because the e-cigarette pens are not meant to explode, the plaintiff did not cause their own injury, and the negligence falls in the scope of the defendant as they created and sold a faulty and dangerous product which, in turn, caused severe personal injuries.
Now, Res Ipsa Loquitur does not automatically ensure that you will win your case. It is a way to argue negligence in your personal injury case. However, if the defendant cannot rebut the presumption of negligence you established with Res Ipsa Loquitur, then the rule of Res Ipsa Loquitur will successfully stand, your case will prevail and you will be able to recover compensation.
Whether you find the concept of Res Ipsa Loquitur simple or complex, it is always most prudent to consult the legal advice of an experienced attorney when attempting to pursue a personal injury case. Their knowledge and understanding of all legal doctrines and case law and their applications of such in court are vital. Every personal injury accident is different – even two slip and fall cases can vary drastically. An experienced personal injury attorney will ensure that you receive the best legal representation for your injuries and receive the compensation you deserve.