Res Ipsa Loquitur

By Daisy Rogozinsky
May 12, 2022

If you file a personal injury lawsuit, your attorney may decide to use the doctrine res ipsa loquitur in your defense. In this article, we’ll define “res ipsa loquitur” and explain its role in personal injury cases.

Key Takeaways

  • Res ipsa loquitur is a Latin phrase meaning “the thing speaks for itself”
  • Res ipsa loquitur is a legal doctrine that allows the use of circumstantial evidence in proving a defendant’s negligence if the accident that injured the plaintiff does not usually happen in the absence of negligence
  • To prove res ipsa loquitor negligence, you must demonstrate three elements:
    • The incident does not usually happen without negligence
    • The incident was caused by an agent in the defendant’s exclusive control
    • The plaintiff did not contribute to the cause of the incident

What Is Res Ipsa Loquitur?

Res ipsa loquitur is a Latin phrase that translates to “the thing speaks for itself.” In law, it refers to a doctrine that allows the use of circumstantial evidence to prove that a defendant was negligent in an accident injuring the plaintiff if the accident was of a type that does not usually occur in the absence of negligence. 

Typically, courts do not allow circumstantial evidence, which is a type of indirect evidence that relies on inference rather than direct observation. However, if the plaintiff establishes res ipsa loquitor, they may meet the burden of proof with what would typically be considered circumstantial evidence.

To prove res ipsa loquitor negligence, there must be three elements:

  • The incident was of a type that does not generally happen without negligence
  • It was caused by an instrumentality solely in the defendant’s control
  • The plaintiff did not contribute to the cause 

Example of Res Ipsa Loquitur

Let’s say that an individual was injured because the umbrella they were sitting under at an outdoor cafe broke and fell on them. The cafe may be found negligent under res ipsa loquitur because the situation meets all three elements:

  • Umbrellas don’t usually break and fall unless their owners negligently keep them in disrepair
  • The umbrella was under the sole control of the cafe that owned it
  • The individual injured by the umbrella did not do anything to contribute to its breaking

Res Ipsa Loquitur in Personal Injury Law

If you are injured by a person who behaved negligently and decide to file a personal injury lawsuit against them, it is possible that you will be able to invoke res ipsa loquitur as a way to prove that the defendant should be held liable and compensate you for your losses.  

The biggest challenge of demonstrating res ipsa loquitur is usually showing that the defendant was in exclusive control of the instrumentality that caused the injury. For example, if you are walking by a hotel and one of their chairs falls off a balcony and injures you, they may be able to defend themselves against your claim of res ipsa loquitur negligence by saying that the chair was only partially in their control, as they gave some control of it to its guests.

To ensure that you are able to build the strongest possible personal injury case, it is highly recommended that you work with an experienced attorney. They will be able to help you determine if rep ipsa loquitur is relevant to your case, and demonstrate it in the most effective possible way in order to help you receive a fair payout for your losses.

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