Res Ipsa Loquitur: What it Means and How it Affects Your Case

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When you're pursuing a personal injury claim, you may encounter some unfamiliar terms. One of these is res ipsa loquitur—a Latin phrase that means “the thing speaks for itself.” It is often shortened to res ipsa when discussing how the concept applies to a case.

Type of Evidence in a Personal Injury Case

There are two types of evidence you can present in a personal injury case: circumstantial evidence and direct evidence.

  • Circumstantial evidence. This type of evidence points to negligence as a logical conclusion, instead of demonstrating it outright. For example, if you were injured by a driver who changed lanes and he accused you of changing lanes and running into him, you could provide evidence that you were very close to an exit you took every day to go to work. Then, the court could infer that it would be illogical for you to change lanes at the time the accident occurred.
  • Direct evidence. The opposite of circumstantial evidence, direct evidence would include items such as photographs and eyewitness testimony that require no type of conclusion to interpret. Testimony from a witness saying that he saw a driver change lanes before an accident occurred is a type of direct evidence.

Res ipsa is important in personal injury law because it allows attorneys to present circumstantial evidence.  

Elements Necessary for Use

The res ipsa doctrine only applies when certain factors are present. The four elements are:Res Ipsa Loquitur

  • The injury occurred from an out-of-the-ordinary situation. Your case must involve an injury that could not have occurred without negligence.
  • The defendant had exclusive control. The accident or object causing the injury was exclusively controlled by the defendant and not partially controlled by another party.
  • There is no contributory negligence. You did not contribute to your injury in any way.
  • There is a duty of the defense. The type of negligence your case refers to falls within the scope of the defendant’s duty of care to the plaintiff and public.

Examples of Cases Where Res Ipsa Loquitur May Apply

Some examples of cases where the res ipsa doctrine may be used include:

  • You were injured in an auto accident that involved a barrel or other heavy object falling from a truck in front of you.
  • You were injured in a car accident when a driver abruptly slammed on his brakes for no apparent reason, causing a multi-car pileup.
  • You suffered complications when a sponge or surgical tool was left inside your body after a procedure.
  • You had an operation performed on the wrong body part such as amputation of the left leg when the surgery should have been performed on the right leg.
  • You were walking on the street and injured by an object falling out of a warehouse window.
  • You were hurt when an elevator malfunctioned, and the company that manufactured the elevator was also responsible for maintaining it.

In all of these examples, the accident that resulted in your injury is one that would not normally occur unless someone was negligent, and it's obvious to a reasonable person that one party had exclusive control over the incident.

Cases Where Res Ipsa Does Not Apply

It's important to note that res ipsa doesn't apply in slip and fall cases. The fact that someone owns property does not mean they are ensuring the safety of the person invited onto the premises and a presumption of negligence can't be made from the mere existence of an injury.

If an accident occurred because you were trespassing or in an area that was marked as unsafe, res ipsa doesn't apply because the defendant owed you no duty of care to prevent your injuries.

Benefits of Retaining Legal Representation

When you've suffered an injury due to another person's negligence, you're entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Retaining legal representation is the best way to ensure that your personal injury claim proceeds in a timely fashion. Your experienced personal injury attorney can gather the evidence needed to present the strongest possible case.

Have You Been Injured In A Louisiana Car Accident?

If you've been hurt in a car accident you need to speak with an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Alexandria office directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule your free consultation.


Richard J. Arsenault
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Recognized by several legal associations, Richard Arsenault has vast experience in complex litigation cases.