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What is “Res Ipsa Loquitur”?

RES IPSA LOQUITUR IS A LEGAL DOCTRINE IMPACTING PROOF OF CAUSATION

Res ipsa loquitur” is a Latin phrase that means “the thing speaks for itself.” In legal terms, res ipsa loquitur is a legal doctrine that allows a court to assume or infer the existence of negligence based on certain kinds of circumstantial evidence.

Like many other legal presumptions, res ipsa loquitur is rebuttable – which means that a defendant can escape liability under the doctrine by proving that (s)he was not, in fact, negligent.

WHEN DOES RES IPSA LOQUITUR APPLY?

The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur only applies in cases where the plaintiff can prove that three of the mandatory elements are met:

1. The plaintiff’s injuries, or the incident in question, generally would not have happened unless negligence occurred.

2. The plaintiff did not contribute to or cause the accident in any way.

3. The defendant had sole and exclusive control over the “instrumentality of the accident” – meaning the thing or situation which caused the harm.

If this seems like a difficult set of tests to meet, you’re seeing the situation clearly. Res ipsa loquitur is a fairly rare legal doctrine, and does not apply to most negligence cases. However, in certain cases it may be impossible for the plaintiff to prove negligence with absolute certainty, due to the facts and circumstances of the case and the fact that only circumstantial evidence of negligence is available. In a few of these cases, res ipsa loquitur may help the plaintiff obtain a recovery from a negligent defendant.

The plaintiff cannot have contributed to the causation of the accident in any way, or res ipsa loquitur will not apply. Additionally, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving all of the elements of the doctrine. If the plaintiff fails to prove even one of the elements to the required standard of proof, the court will not apply res ipsa loquitur.

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Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR 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. Negligence claims 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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