Res ipsa loquitur is a rule of evidence that allows the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit to prove that the defendant was negligent without direct proof that the defendant was at fault. It is useful in many cases because, under certain circumstances, it is obvious that negligence was involved in an injury, yet impossible to prove negligence directly.

Res ipsa loquitur applies when the circumstances of the case lead to the conclusion that an accident would not have happened if someone had not been negligent. 

To win an ordinary negligence claim, you must prove the following four elements:  

  • The defendant owed the injured party a duty of care: 
  • The defendant breached their duty; 
  • The injured party suffered physical injury; and 
  • The defendant’s negligence caused the injury. 

These elements differ somewhat for a res ipsa loquitur claim (see below).

Examples of Circumstances That Might Invoke Res Ipsa Loquitur

The following circumstances, and circumstances like it, have provided the basis for successful res ipsa loquitur claims in many past cases:

  1. A hotel guest dies in a fire because a fire alarm malfunctioned.
  2. The plaintiff suffers injury when a consumer product malfunctions due to a defect.
  3. A patient discovers after surgery that a surgeon’s scalpel is inside their body.
  4. The plaintiff suffers a head injury after a falling object hits them on the head.
  5. A person suffers bone fractures in a car accident due to a malfunctioning auto part.

These are only examples. Many other scenarios can invoke res ipsa loquitur.

To prove negligence using res ipsa loquitur, you must prove each of the following legal elements:

  1. The accident would not have occurred unless someone was negligent.
  2. The defendant was in sole control of the instrumentality that caused the accident (a factory that manufactured a defective product, for example).
  3. The plaintiff did not contribute to the cause of the injury.

You must prove all three of these elements to establish that the defendant was negligent.

Proving Res Ipsa Loquitur Is Not Necessarily Enough To Win

Proving res ipsa loquitur puts the other side on the defensive, but it is not enough to win all by itself. All it does is shift the burden of proof for negligence to the defendant.

The Shifting of the Burden of Proof

Normally, the plaintiff (the person filing a lawsuit) must prove their allegation. If they allege that the defendant was negligent, for example, they must prove this allegation with a “preponderance of the evidence,” which is a “more likely than not” standard.

Once the plaintiff establishes res ipsa loquitur, however, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant. Now the defendant must prove that they were NOT negligent. As a practical matter, this can be very difficult to do. Nevertheless, defendants sometimes manage to prove that they were not negligent. The “preponderance of the evidence” standard applies to defendants as well as plaintiffs. 

Proving Damages

Proving negligence is not enough to win a personal injury case. You must also prove that you suffered physical harm. Since you will be asking for monetary damages, you must prove the value of that harm in dollars and cents. 

This might be easy regarding tangible losses such as medical expenses. It can get more difficult, however, when you are trying to prove intangible losses such as pain and suffering. 

Proving Causation

Once you prove damages, you must also prove that the defendant’s negligence was the cause of your damages. This proof involves two aspects. First, you must prove that your injuries would not have occurred without the defendant’s negligence. 

Second, you must prove that the connection between the defendant’s negligence and the harm you suffered was direct enough that the defendant should have foreseen the accident.

If you or a loved one have suffered an injury that you believe might be the fault of someone else, it’s important to speak with a qualified personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. They can help you understand your rights, evaluate your case, and guide you through the process of seeking compensation.

Contact the Personal Injury Law Firm Of Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers To Get The Help Your Deserve

If you need help with your injury case or you want to learn more information, please call the Personal Injury law firm of Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers at (727) 787-2500 or visit the nearest location to schedule a free case evaluation today.

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