What Is Res Ipsa Loquitur?

If you or somebody you care about has been injured due to the actions of another individual, business, or entity, you may need to work with an attorney who can help you secure the compensation you are entitled to. If you have ever spoken to an attorney, then you have likely heard some unfamiliar words tossed around. Often, some of the terms that are misunderstood are Latin phrases used in the legal field. One of the most common phrases that comes up in personal injury claims is “res ipsa loquitur.” This is a Latin phrase that translates to “the thing speaks for itself.” Here, we want to discuss this phrase in-depth as well as how this term could play a role in your personal injury claim.

Understanding another language in personal injury law

The term res ipsa loquitur will likely come up in your personal injury case if there may not be proof that the other party actually did something to cause an injury or accident, but there is no other reasonable explanation for how the incident happened other than a person’s negligence. In other words, “the thing speaks for itself” or is “obvious.”

In an effort to keep the confusion at bay when working with Latin terms, it is perhaps better to use an example of when res ipsa loquitur may need to be used in a case. Let us use an example of a case involving a commercial truck striking a passenger vehicle and injuring the occupants.

During the course of the investigation, an inspection of the truck shows that there were no mechanical issues with the vehicle and the roadway had no defects. There were no commercial truck tire blowouts, no obstructions on the road, and no other drivers around that could have caused the condition for the accident. In this example, let us suppose that the weather was clear and that cell phone records show that the driver was not distracted. The driver had no alcohol in his system at the time of the crash.

In this situation, the only reasonable explanation for how the accident happened was that the driver was negligent in their duties in some way.

How to use res ipsa loquitur in court

In order to use res ipsa loquitur (to ask a jury or judge to assume negligence), the plaintiff in a personal injury case needs to establish three elements. These include:

  1. That the injury or accident would not have occurred ordinarily in the absence of negligence
  2. That the incident or thing that caused the accident was under the exclusive control of the defendant
  3. That the injuries were not caused by anything the plaintiff did

If the plaintiff in the case, or their attorney, is able to show these three elements, then the burden falls onto the defendant to prove that they were not responsible. If the defendant is unable to provide proof sufficient to overcome res ipsa loquitur, then the plaintiff will win.

Working with an attorney

Personal injury cases can become complicated, and res ipsa loquitur is a prime example of what we mean by this. These cases revolve around having the evidence necessary to prove that the defendant was responsible for any injuries that occurred. Because res ipsa loquitur is used in the absence of concrete evidence, you can be sure that the defendant and their attorneys will argue vehemently that they were not responsible. If you or a loved one have been injured and find yourself in a situation where proof of the incident is hard to come by, you need to work with a skilled Portland personal injury lawyer who understands every aspect of these cases. If res ipsa loquitur is going to be used, an attorney needs to be the one making this argument.