What is Res Ipsa Loquitur?

There are many legal concepts that seem foreign to the public at large. To be sure, some of those legal concepts are actually in a foreign language, but used within the common law. One of those concepts is res ipsa loquitur, or translated from Latin as 'the thing speaks for itself.' This means that if an accident happens and someone is injured, then someone else is most likely responsible. This is an important concept in personal injury law. In this blog post we hope to explain:

  • What is res ipsa loquitur;
  • What are examples of res ipsa loquitur; and
  • What impact does res ipsa loquitur have on personal injury law.

Explaining Res Ipsa Loquitur

A typical personal injury case has four elements to it. First, there existed a duty of care to act reasonably in any given situation. Second, there is a breach of the duty to act reasonably, whether that means a person speeds, spills oil on the floor, or some other act that the person should not have done. Third, that breach of duty causes an injury to someone else, or the victim. When the injury results in economic, physical, or emotional damage, then the fourth element is satisfied. But what happens when all of these things happen to a victim, but it is not clear who caused the injury? One way to make a case is through res ipsa loquitur.

As discussed earlier, res ipsa loquitur means 'the thing speaks for itself.' Essentially this means that if someone is injured, then there is most likely someone responsible for it. Florida courts explain that it is a common sense principle of the law. There are two important parts to a res ipsa loquitur claim:

  • the injured person must show that the cause of the injury was in the exclusive control of the defendant; and,
  • that the accident is not the kind that would normally occur without negligence.

If an injured person can show both of those things against a defendant, then res ipsa loquitur will kick in. When successfully proven, the judge in a case will give a jury the instruction on res ipsa loquitur, and let them decide.

Examples of Res Ipsa Loquitur Cases

There are many different types of cases that are best explained by a theory of res ipsa loquitur. For example, consider a situation when a sponge or other surgical instrument is left behind in a patient's body. No one can be certain which surgeon or nurse left it there, but it could not happen without someone who was in control of the situation being negligent. Another example is in airplane crashes. When a plane is operating fine, there are no adverse weather patterns, and a plane later crashes, it is hard to prove that a pilot was negligent, but planes do not generally fall out of the sky.

As you can see, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur has a major impact on personal injury cases. It represents an additional tool that injured people have to fully recover for the damages they incur do to the negligence of others. At The Pittman Firm we can handle any res ipsa loquitur case that surfaces in the Panama City area. Contact us so we can work with you.

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