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“Res Ipsa Loquitur” is a doctrine used to prove negligence based upon circumstantial evidence in tort (injury) cases. The res ipsa doctrine is basically a presumption that “the thing speaks for itself,” and allows a judge or jury to deduce negligence where there is no other reasonable explanation for what has occurred.

The three elements necessary to apply the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur are: (1) the injury must not or could not have occurred without someone’s negligence; (2) the negligence must have occurred while the injured person was within the exclusive care and control of another; (3) the injured party must not have contributed or caused the injury to occur.

Classic examples of res ipsa cases include something falling from a multi-story building causing injury or in medical negligence situations such as the leaving of a sponge or other non-therapeutic item in a patient following a surgery. Non-food items contained within a can of food or food packaging can also be evidence of res ipsa loquitur negligence.

Assuming all three elements exist, a presumption of negligence then applies, shifting the burden to the defendant(s) to prove by a preponderance of evidence (more probable than not) that the injury was not caused by his/her negligence.

Although not used regularly, plaintiffs should make use of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine in proving a case for negligence, especially a health care situation. Res ipsa loquitur in medical negligence cases will apply if the injured patient can prove that the harm ordinarily would not have happened unless someone was negligent (i.e. leaving a sponge in after surgery is the classic example), and the patient did not contribute to the harm. It will then be incumbent on a defendant, physician, or other health care provider to prove their lack of negligence.

If you are a victim of healthcare neglect or other negligent act(s) at the hands of another, contact the Law Offices of Heiting & Irwin to discuss your potential claims.


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