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Res Ipsa Loquitur – Inferring Causation in Negligence Cases

Plaintiffs Generally Must Prove All Elements Of A Case With Legally Admissible Evidence.

Generally speaking, an injured plaintiff must prove all elements of his or her case in order to prevail. In negligence cases, this means proving: (1) the existence of a legally-recognized duty, (2) the defendant’s breach of that duty, (3) recoverable damages, and (4) the manner in which the defendant’s breach actually caused the plaintiff’s damages. The plaintiff must introduce legally admissible evidence proving each of these elements (and any other legally required elements of the case) to the applicable standard of proof.

However, there are situations where the plaintiff may be relieved of the obligation to establish every element of a case by definitive proof. One such situation involves the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

Res Ipsa Loquitur: When Causation Can Be Inferred As A Matter Of Law.

Res ipsa loquitur is a Latin phrase meaning “the thing speaks for itself.” In litigation, res ipsa loquitur is an evidentiary rule that lets the court (and the jury) infer causation based on circumstantial evidence (as opposed to direct proof) in certain types of negligence cases.

In order for res ipsa loquitur to apply, the plaintiff must prove:

1.  The incident, and plaintiff’s injuries, are of a type that happen only when someone is negligent. (This can be proven either through expert testimony or through the introduction of evidence that demonstrates this fact to be common knowledge.)

2. The plaintiff did not contribute to the incident (or to plaintiff’s own damages).

3. The defendant had either actual control over, or the exclusive right to control, the mechanism or situation that caused the harm.

Once all of these elements are proven, the plaintiff may be entitled to the benefit of a legal inference establishing causation–and be relieved of the obligation to actually prove the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s harm.

Like many legal theories and rules, res ipsa loquitur is heavily fact-dependent and does not apply to all situations. Never rely on this or any other legal article to evaluate your legal rights. Always consult an experienced attorney if you believe that you have a claim or cause of action (the right to bring a lawsuit) against someone who caused you physical or economic harm.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses) are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.


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