The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur* (“the thing speaks for itself”) is derived from Anglo-American common law. Under evidentiary rules, this doctrine may be applied in a tort lawsuit in some instances. It allows a court to infer negligence based on the very nature of the accident or injury sustained. Because of this, no direct evidence is required regarding how the defendant behaved.
When Negligence Cannot be Proven
Typically, it can be proven that some act on the part of the defendant or some act of contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff constituted negligence. In some personal injury cases, it may be impossible to charge a defendant with a negligent act because negligence cannot be proven under strict liability.
Presumed or Inferred Negligence
If negligence cannot be proven, the case may be appropriately allowed to proceed on the theory of res ipsa loquitur, provided that:
(a) the event is of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence; (b) other responsible causes, including the conduct of the plaintiff and third persons, are sufficiently eliminated by the evidence; and
(c) the indicated negligence is within the scope of the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff.”
Some examples of injuries that may fit the requirements for res ipsa loquitur include a surgeon leaving a scalpel inside of a patient, removing the wrong body part, or causing a rare or unheard of injury.
Restrictions On Res Ipsa Loquitur
In order to apply the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur it must be demonstrated that circumstantial evidence will be used to lead to reasonable inferences by the court (in contrast to simply evidence which would force the court to speculate to reach its conclusion).
Res ipsa loquitur cannot be invoked when the circumstances are unknown and must also be presumed.
Res ipsa loquitur may only be applied when the sole reasonable and legitimate inference that can be drawn from the circumstances is that of the defendant’s negligence.
To prevail in a case alleging negligence with a theory of res ipsa loquitur, the following three must have been true at the time of the incident in question:
1. The element which caused the injury was under the exclusive control and management (ownership/responsibility) of the defendant, making it more likely than not that the defendant’s negligence was likely the cause of the injury.
2. The plaintiff was without fault (the absence of contributory negligence).
3. The injury would not have happened in the ordinary course of events if the party who was in control of the injury-causing element used due care.
Were You Seriously Injured by Another’s Negligence?
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If you or a loved one were seriously injured by a medical provider or other party who owed you a duty of care, contact Angotti & Straface Attorneys at Law right away. Since 1952, our law firm has helped our clients throughout West Virginia safeguard their rights. To learn more about what we can do to help you fight for your rights, call us for a free case evaluation. Let us know what happened when you’re ready to take action. Our phone lines are open 24-hours a day. Call: (304) 292-4381.
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*Content provided in layman’s terms for general informational purposes only. Do not rely on this text for legal clarification. For more information, please visit the website of the West Virginia Legislature or contact your trusted attorney for legal counsel.