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What Is Res Ipsa Loquitur?


Imagine that you or someone you love is injured in an accident. Something goes very wrong, and it’s obvious that something had to have gone wrong. In fact, common sense says that the only way that an injury could happen is if somebody did something wrong.

Yet, you have no direct evidence of the wrongdoing. No evidence of what anybody did wrong—you just know that an injury like yours doesn’t happen without someone breaching their duty of care to you.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

This is the heart of a legal doctrine called Res Ipsa Loquitur or Res Ipsa. Res Ipsa allows the jury to assume that there is negligence from the accident happening. In other words, the accident itself is evidence that someone did something wrong, even if there’s no other absence available to prove negligence.

Compare this to traditional cases. If someone rear-ends you there can be a lot of reasons why the Defendant did so–not all are negligent. You have to put forth evidence showing the Defendant did something wrong.

Res Ipsa Examples

A classic example of Res Ipsa is when an object is left in someone’s body after they are closed up after surgery. You certainly know that this is not normal—a sponge or a surgery tool doesn’t get left in your body unless someone did something very wrong. But during surgery, you were asleep. You don’t know in surgery who did what or how. All you have to use as evidence is the fact there was an object left inside of you.

Likewise, imagine you are in a store and a large object falls on your head. The only way that could happen is if someone was negligent—someone stocked something carelessly, or didn’t put something on a shelf properly. But you don’t know who did what or why. The fact that an object falls from the sky itself can be evidence of negligence under Res Ipsa.

Res Ipsa also requires a showing that the thing or object that caused the victim harm was under the control of the defendant (as the object would be under the control of the surgeon, in our example).

Assumptions and Common Sense

Res Ipsa loquitur would allow the jury to assume or presume that negligence led to your injury. It would excuse you from having to put forth the proof that you normally would have to put forth in a normal negligence case.

As you can see, Res Ipsa allows a jury to use its common sense, instead of relying on evidence. Human knowledge tells us that stuff doesn’t fall from the sky or ceiling, unless someone is negligent. The law allows a victim to use that common sense, instead of having to obtain evidence that the victim may not be able to get through no fault of the victim.

Call the Knoxville personal injury attorneys at Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, for help if you have sustained any kind of injury.

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