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What is the "Res Ipsa Loquitur" Doctrine?


“Res ipsa loquitur” means “the thing speaks for itself” in Latin. According to personal injury law, the concept of res ipsa operates as an evidentiary rule which enables the injured parties to establish a rebuttable presumption of negligence on the part of the defendant based on circumstantial evidence. If the plaintiff puts forth circumstantial facts, it becomes the defendant’s burden to prove he/she were not negligent.

Circumstantial evidence comprises of facts which lead to negligence as a rational conclusion, instead of showing it outright. Rather than directly proving a defendant’s negligent, circumstantial evidence permits juries and judges to determine negligence according to the entirety of the circumstances and the shared knowledge derived from human experience.

To use the res ipsa doctrine successfully, a plaintiff must show that:

  • The injury doesn’t normally happen unless an individual or entity has acted negligently
  • The evidence eliminates the possibility that the plaintiff’s or a third party’s actions caused the injury
  • The type of negligence in question falls within the scope of the defendant’s duty of care to the plaintiff

Rebutting Res Ipsa

This doctrine only enables plaintiffs to establish the inference of the defendant’s negligence, not to completely prove the negligent act. Defendants can still refute the presumption of negligence that res ipsa implies by disproving one of the elements mentioned above.

For instance, the defendant can show that the plaintiff’s own negligence contributed to the injury. The defendant also could prove by the preponderance of the evidence that the injury could still occur, despite the fact that reasonable care was given to prevent it. Lastly, the defendant could also show that he/she did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care under the law, or that the injury was not covered under the scope of the duty owed.

If you have been cited for professional malpractice or face claims of negligent liability, our Charleston professional liability attorneys at Pierce | Sloan are committed to protecting your rights, reputation, and future. With nearly two decades of experience, we have provided professionals facing malpractice claims with knowledgeable and skilled legal counsel, standing up for their best interests and proving their actions were within the standard of care.

For more information, contact us and request a free consultation today.

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