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Res Ipsa Loquitur

Definition - What does Res Ipsa Loquitur mean?

Res ipsa loquitur is Latin for "the thing speaks for itself." Under personal injury law, Res ipsa loquitur is the concept that for some injuries there could be a presumption of negligence against the defendant even if there is now actual evidence to that fact.

This concept differs from most injury claims where the plaintiff has the burden to provide evidence that a defendant's actions were negligent due to a breach of their duty. If res ipsa loquitur exists the court agrees that although only circumstantial evidence exists, the burden of proof may be shifted from the plaintiff to the defendant, and rather than the plaintiff proving the defendant was negligent, the defendant must prove they were not negligent.

For example, if Becky Bardow is walking underneath a building where a company is repairing the roof and a load of brick falls and hits Becky on the head injuring her, she may be able to file an injury claim against the repair company even if no one witnessed the accident and there is no other evidence the company was negligent. The assumption in this case is that the repair company had exclusive control of the material which caused the injury and without negligence the accident would not have occurred.

Medical Malpractice and res ipsa loquitur

The concept of res ipsa loquitur is also commonly used in medical malpractice claims. To successfully establish liability under res ipsa loquitur for medical malpractice, however, the plaintiff must prove several elements: they must prove the evidence of negligence is not available; the injury which occurred does not usually occur unless there was negligence; the patient did not cause their own injury; the doctor had a duty of care for the patient at the time they were injured; the doctor alone was responsible for the patient at the time of the injury; and the doctor had greater knowledge or means of obtaining evidence about the cause of the injury.

If the plaintiff provides evidence to support the elements of the case outlined above the court allows for the burden of proof to shift to the medical provider rather than the plaintiff. At this time the medical provider, rather than the plaintiff, has the duty to prove they were not negligent.

If you have questions about res ipsa loquitur, the judicial interpretations of state statutes, its limitations, and its restrictions to a statute's applicability, you need to contact a personal injury lawyer who is familiar with your state's injury laws.

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