Res Ipsa Loquitur
Res ipsa loquitur is a Latin phrase that functions as a legal term of art. Injury lawyers use it to establish that a defendant was negligent without proving it directly. The reasoning is that, under the circumstances, the accident would not have occurred unless someone was negligent. Lawyers can use res ipsa loquitur as a substitute for direct proof.
How To Prove Ordinary Negligence Cases
Under normal circumstances, you must prove four legal elements to establish negligence:
- The defendant owed the victim a duty of care;
- The defendant breached their duty of care;
- The victim suffered a physical injury; and
- The defendant’s breach of duty caused the victim’s injury.
For example, you might prove that the defendant was driving a car at the time of the accident. This establishes the defendant’s duty to obey traffic laws. If you can show that the defendant ran a red light, you can prove a breach of duty. You could introduce medical evidence to prove that the victim suffered an injury. You could then prove that the victim’s injury occurred when the defendant crashed their car into the victim after running a red light.
The Burden of Proof in a Negligence Claim
You must prove all four of these elements by a “preponderance of the evidence.” A preponderance of the evidence means enough evidence to convince a rational person that it is more likely than not that all four of the legal elements are present. If you can do this, you have established liability, and the defendant (or their insurance company) must pay compensation.
Sample Res Ipsa Loquitur Case
Suppose you are walking down the sidewalk when you are hit by a hammer that fell from above. Later your lawyer discovers that the building you were walking past at the time was under construction, and the hammer that hit you came from the construction site. Your lawyer cannot prove who dropped the hammer or how the hammer fell.
Under the principle of res ipsa loquitur, your lawyer could argue that if a hammer fell on you from above, someone at the construction site must have been negligent. As long as you can prove res ipsa loquitur, you don’t need to get any more specific than that.
The Legal Elements of Res Ipsa Loquitur: What You Have To Prove
To win a claim under res ipsa loquitur, you must prove the following legal elements:
- The accident was very unlikely to happen unless someone was careless. This element is easy to prove since hammers don’t fall from the sky.
- The defendant owed you a duty of care and was in control of the situation that hurt you. Companies performing construction work on buildings owe a duty of care to protect anyone likely to suffer an injury because of their conduct. That includes keeping hammers from falling from heights and striking people.
- Circumstances exclude all parties except the defendant. Since the hammer belonged to the defendant company, and since there was no other party working with hammers at the place and time of the accident, the evidence excludes all other parties. Note that the employees of the defendant company are considered part of the company.
Even after you prove these three elements by a preponderance of the evidence, you have not yet won your case. Establishing res ipsa loquitur simply shifts the burden of proof to the defendant to prove that they were not negligent. It is usually extremely difficult for defendants to prove that they were not negligent.
Examples of Res Ipsa Loquitur Cases
Medical malpractice, premises liability, and defective product cases frequently generate res ipsa loquitur claims.
A lawyer might pursue a res ipsa loquitur theory of liability if, for example:
- A medical instrument remained inside a patient’s body after surgery, or the doctor operated on the wrong part of the patient’s body.
- An invited guest suffered an injury because of a hazardous condition at the defendant’s department store.
- A victim died because their car’s airbags spontaneously exploded.
Other types of cases might also generate a res ipsa loquitur claim.
Possible Defenses To Res Ipsa Loquitur
Depending on the circumstances, the defendant’s lawyer might raise one of the following defenses:
- Unforeseeable inclement weather caused the accident. Even if inclement weather was foreseeable, the defendant is not liable if there was no way to protect against it (hurricane damage, for example).
- The victim was partly responsible for the accident (due to intoxication, for example). This will result in a partial reduction of compensation in proportion to the victim’s degree of fault.
- The statute of limitations period to file a lawsuit has expired. Typically, you have until four years after the accident to file a lawsuit.
Other defenses might apply depending on the circumstances and type of case.
Contact an Ocala Personal Injury Lawyer for Help Proving Res Ipsa Loquitur
No honest lawyer will guarantee you victory. Nevertheless, hiring a personal injury lawyer could double, triple, or even quadruple the value of your claim under the right circumstances. Seek a free initial consultation today.