Written by attorney Ronald Walter Kim

Res Ipsa Loquitur


Res ipsa loquitur: [Latin - “the thing speaks for itself”]. 1. Torts. The doctrine providing that, in some circumstances, the mere fact of an accident’s occurrence raises an inference of negligence so as to establish a prima facie case. (Often shortened to res ipsa.) Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th Edition

It is a fact that accidents happen. In a personal injury lawsuit, in order to prove negligence the plaintiff must present evidence of the negligence. There are times when direct evidence of the defendant’s negligence just does not exist. Circumstantial evidence is evidence of one recognized fact (or a set of facts) that relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact. This is the time when res ipsa loquitur is used to support the plaintiff’s case. There are three basic requirements that must be satisfied before the court can submit the question of negligence to the jury under res ipsa loquitur: (1) Inference of negligence; (2) Exclusive control by the defendant; (3) Freedom from contributory negligence. Once the court decides that the facts of the case warrant applying res ipsa loquitur, it will instruct the jury on the basic principles. Then it is the function of a jury to decide if the credibility and weight of the inference to be drawn from the facts if the defendant was indeed negligent. However, the jury could decide that the facts do not support the “theory of negligence” and the plaintiff could lose his case.

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