What is Res Ipsa Loquiter?
Law has lots of strange and confusing legal terms. Res ipsa loquiter is one of them.
It may not be a household word, but res ipsa loquiter is a legal term worth understanding if you are a party to a personal injury case.
So, what is res ipsa loquiter?
What Does Res Ipsa Loquiter Mean?
First, let us start with what it means.
Res ipsa loquitur is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.”
How Does it Operate in Personal Injury Cases?
While that may be all well and good, it really does not tell us much about how that (i.e., “the thing speaks for itself”), fits into a personal injury case.
To put this into perspective, it is important to understand that the core of any personal injury case based on negligence requires proving that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries and that in personal injury cases, negligence is not presumed. To win his or her case, an injured plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted negligently (without due care or unreasonably).
A personal injury plaintiff does this by presenting evidence to the court supporting his/her case.
Evidence can be either direct or circumstantial.
Direct evidence is evidence that directly proves a fact — like an eyewitness testimony.
Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, does not come from eyewitness testimony. Rather, it requires some reasoning to prove the fact. For example, footprints in the snow would be circumstantial evidence. They would indicate that someone walked there, yet there would be no eyewitness testimony as to that fact.
A personal injury plaintiff can use either direct evidence or circumstantial evidence (or both) to prove his or her case.
Res ipsa loquiter comes into play when a plaintiff must prove negligence by circumstantial evidence only.
The doctrine allows a plaintiff to prove negligence even though he does not have direct evidence of the defendant’s negligence or the information proving negligence is solely in the defendant’s possession—because the doctrine basically states that the plaintiff’s injuries would not have occurred absent negligence. Res ipsa loquiter is used in situations where, in the ordinary course of things, injury would not occur unless there has been some type of negligence.
Although it should be pointed out that the mere fact alone of plaintiff’s injury is not sufficient to invoke the doctrine. The facts of the situation must point to negligence. When they do, however, the doctrine allows circumstantial evidence to be sufficient to prove a defendant’s negligence.
An example of situations where res ipsa loquiter is often used are in medical malpractice cases. Because in most medical malpractice cases the injured patient was unconscious at the time of the injury and does not have direct evidence of a doctor’s negligence, res ipsa loquiter can be used to show a doctor’s negligence, for example in leaving an instrument or sponge inside the patient, because absent negligence, doctors don’t leave instruments inside patients.
What Elements Must You Prove?
As with any legal theory, there are certain elements that must be proven to establish, in this case, a claim of res ipsa loquiter.
There are 3 elements a plaintiff must prove:
- That the accident was of the sort that does not occur absent someone’s negligence
- That the object or thing that caused the accident was solely within the defendant’s control
- That the injured party did not cause or contribute to the accident
Fitting these elements to our example above, this would mean that the injured medical malpractice patient would have to show: that the accident or incident (i.e., leaving an instrument inside a patient) is of the sort that does not normally occur absent negligence; and that the object (i.e., the sponge or instrument) was solely within the doctor’s control; and that the patient (who was unconscious) did not cause or contribute to the accident/incident.
With all three requirements for res ipsa loquitur satisfied, the doctrine would apply and the injured patient would be able to establish negligence despite not having direct evidence of negligence.
Because evidence is vital to any personal injury action, you and your experienced personal injury lawyer will spend time focusing on gathering all relevant evidence to support your case.
Personal Injury Attorneys Ready to Help.
John Fagan and his legal team are dedicated to helping those who have been injured due to the negligence of another. Contact us here or simply call our firm at: 777-JOHN. We serve clients throughout Florida. Our main office is in Orange Park, but we have consulting offices in Palatka, Middleburg, Keystone, Starke, Gainesville, and Ocala.