Res Ipsa Loquitur in Personal Injury Cases

Man testifying in court to demonstrate legal term of res ipsa loquitur

Res Ipsa Loquitur (RIL) is a legal doctrine that is invoked in certain situations in a personal injury case. It is predominantly used in cases where direct evidence is lacking in support of an injury. But when, specifically, does res ipsa loquitur apply, and is it enough to win a case on its own? Read our article to find out more. 

What is Res Ipsa Loquitur?

Res Ipsa Loquitur is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.” Unsurprisingly, it has its roots in Ancient Rome, when it was first put forth in Ciceros’ speech “Pro Milone.” In the speech, he defends his friend, Titus Milo, who was being tried for the murder of his political competitor, Publius Clodius Mulcher. 

Today, RIL is a formal doctrine that allows plaintiffs in personal injury cases to establish a presumption of negligence on the part of the defendant when other conditions are met. Essentially, it shifts the burden of proof to the defendant, requiring them to demonstrate that they were not negligent.

To invoke Res Ipsa Loquitur successfully, several criteria must typically be met:

The Accident Was Under the Defendant’s Control

The incident that caused the injury must have been within the exclusive control of the defendant or their agents. In other words, the plaintiff should not have contributed to the accident in any significant way.

The Defendant Owed the Victim a Duty of Care

Whether directly or indirectly, the victim must have been owed some duty of care by the defendant. This means there was a reasonable expectation that no harm would occur to them by this party. 

The Accident Couldn’t Have Occurred Without Negligence

The event or accident in question should be something that doesn’t typically happen without someone’s negligence or improper conduct. 

The Plaintiff Cannot Present Evidence of Negligence

The plaintiff must demonstrate that they lack direct evidence of the defendant’s negligence. This is a crucial aspect of Res Ipsa Loquitur because it’s essentially saying, “I cannot prove that the defendant was negligent, but the circumstances indicate that they must have been.”

Application in Personal Injury Cases

Res Ipsa Loquitur is most commonly applied in personal injury cases when the plaintiff cannot provide direct evidence of the defendant’s negligence. This often arises in situations involving medical malpractice and product liability. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

Medical Malpractice: imagine a patient undergoes surgery, and a surgical instrument is left inside their body. The patient may not have direct evidence of the surgeon’s negligence, but the presence of the instrument itself suggests that something went wrong during the procedure. 

Product Liability: if a consumer is injured by a defective product, Res Ipsa Loquitur may apply if a product malfunctioned due to presumed negligence but the plaintiff no longer has the product. In other words, it could reasonably be assumed that the injury should not and would not have occurred without negligence in design, labeling, and/or manufacture. 

How Does RIL Affect the Outcome of a Case?

For plaintiffs, invoking Res Ipsa Loquitur can be advantageous, as it shifts the burden of proof to the defendant. This means it is up to the defendant to present evidence to demonstrate that they were not negligent.

However, simply invoking res ipsa loquitur does not necessarily mean the case is won; it merely establishes that some form of negligence occurred. The remainder of the case will focus on whether or not that negligence caused the injuries sustained by the victim. As evidence is presented, it may shift the burden back to the defense. 

Personal Injury in Denver

If you or someone you know was injured due to the negligence of another in Denver or any other part of Colorado, contact Dave Roth with the Roth Group. Even if you feel you can’t present evidence to support your case but you know your injuries weren’t your fault, you may still have options. Dave will carefully evaluate your case to determine the at fault party and if you should pursue legal action. Call or go online today to schedule your free consultation.