“The thing speaks for itself.” That is the translation of the Latin term res ipsa loquitur

Why would you care about this Latin term if you were injured in a car accident, motorcycle crash, pedestrian accident, slip and fall or other personal injury accident? You may need to use the legal theory to recover compensation for your damages.

What is Negligence?

Negligence is the failure to use a level of care that someone would have reasonably used in the same circumstances. It is the basis for most personal injury claims. If a party’s negligence resulted in harm or injury to someone, the victim could seek compensation for injuries, financial losses, and other damages. 

However, you must first prove the party was negligent. The legal elements of a negligence claim are:

  • The person owed the victim a duty of care
  • The person breached the duty of care
  • The breach of care caused the victim to be harmed
  • The victim suffered damages because of the breach of care

Direct evidence is used to prove negligence. For example, a red light camera may show a car speeding through a red light and crashing into a motorcycle. That is direct evidence that the driver of the vehicle was negligent in causing the motorcycle accident.

However, there are some cases in which there is no direct evidence to prove negligence. In those cases, the legal theory of res ipsa loquitur may be used to establish liability.

How Do You Use Res Ipsa Loquitur in a Personal Injury Case?

Res ipsa loquitur uses circumstantial evidence to establish negligence and fault. Circumstantial evidence leads the jury to infer negligence by proving that there is no other reasonable explanation for how the victim was injured. 

You must prove the following legal elements using the totality of the circumstances:

  • The event is not something that would typically occur unless someone was negligent
  • The defendant had exclusive control over the circumstances that led to the injury
  • The acts of the defendant were within the scope of the defendant’s duty of care to the victim
  • The evidence in the case rules out the chance that the victim or another party could have caused the victim’s injuries

An example might be a person walking on a sidewalk being struck by a stack of steel bars. Steel bars do not fall from the sky. Someone would have had to place the steel bars high above the ground for them to fall on the person.

The person was walking by a construction site when the accident occurred. The contractor was using steel bars in the construction of the upper levels of the building. Because the construction site was under the control of the contractor and the contractor would have had to haul the steel bars to the upper floors for construction, a jury might infer that the contractor was negligent in allowing the steel bars to fall onto the sidewalk. 

Winning a Case on the Grounds of Res Ipsa Loquitur

Proving that the circumstantial evidence infers negligence on the part of the defendant is not enough to win the case. It shifts the burden of proof to the defendant to prove the defendant was not guilty. The presumed negligence is rebuttable.

In other words, if the defendant has the opportunity to present evidence that argues against the presumption of negligence. The jury must then weigh the evidence from both parties to determine if the circumstantial evidence is sufficient to infer negligence and fault upon the defendant.

One Last Step – Injury and Harm

Even though you prove that the circumstantial evidence is enough to assume the defendant was negligent, you must prove that you sustained injury and harm because of the defendant’s actions. 

Res ipsa loquitur can be used to establish all of the legal requirements for negligence except injury and harm. You must have direct evidence to show that you sustained some form of harm because of the incident.

Harm may include physical injuries, financial losses, and emotional damages. If you cannot prove that you were harmed because of the incident, you cannot win a personal injury case.

The jury determines the amount of compensation to award to a victim once the victim proves all legal requirements of the case. A victim may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, loss of income, physical pain, emotional suffering, and other damages.

A personal injury lawyer can review your case to determine whether there is enough direct evidence to prove negligence. If not, the attorney may advise you that you still have a strong case based on the legal theory of res ipsa loquitur