What is Res Ipsa Loquitur?


You’ve been the victim of someone else’s mistake. Whether or not your resulting problems are minor or severe, you shouldn’t have to deal with them alone. In some situations, the evidence of who’s at fault in a legal matter is quite obvious. This is where res ipsa loquitur comes into play.

Res ipsa loquitur means “It speaks for itself,” or “The thing speaks for itself.” In personal injury law, this Latin phrase functions as an evidentiary rule. In other words, it allows you to use circumstantial evidence to show that the accused should be responsible for your injuries. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur shifts the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant.

The Origins of Res Ipsa Loquitur

This concept originated from a case where a plaintiff was walking by a warehouse and a barrel of flour fell onto them, causing an injury. The victim’s attorney demonstrated that the warehouse was negligent and that the situation itself pointed to that. It’s common knowledge that barrels typically don’t fall on their own and that a person would’ve had to make a mistake for that to occur.

Since this case, the doctrine has allowed juries and judges to use common sense while looking at a situation. For rep ipsa loquitur to apply, it will usually be obvious that the defendant was negligent and that their negligence is what led to the injury.

In Which Situations Would Res Ipsa Apply?

To win your personal injury claim, you’ll have to be specific about your situation. You’ll have to identify the specific person involved and what duty they failed to fulfill. You must explain exactly what they failed to do and why it led to you getting hurt. During your case, you should prove:

  • The accused owed you the duty of acting as a reasonable person would act in the situation.
  • They failed to fulfill the duty, and that their actions didn’t meet the minimum requirements of that obligation.
  • Their failure to perform this duty led to you getting hurt, and that the injury led to damages (financial or otherwise) for you.
  • The accident that caused your injury happened because of a factor that the defendant was in control of.
  • That you aren’t in a position to demonstrate the specific circumstances which led to your accident.

In Arizona, just because you were in an accident doesn’t mean that it was the defendant’s responsibility. It’s not enough to state that you suffered injuries, that the accident involved the defendant, and that it’s their fault. It’s up to you to show why the accused should owe you something for your injuries.

Res Ipsa Loquitur- The Elements

Under the concept of res ipsa, you (as the plaintiff) must show that the event wouldn’t normally happen unless someone was negligent. The evidence you present should rule out that you yourself or a third party caused the accident. And you must demonstrate that the particular type of negligence was within the accused’s duty to you, as the injured person.

Examples of Res Ipsa Loquitur

How can you know if this concept will apply to your situation? An example of res ipsa loquitur would be medical malpractice (like going to get surgery done and ending up with a glove or pair of scissors left in your body). Walking by a construction site and being injured by falling debris could be another example. Buying a can of soup and finding a mouse inside could also qualify as a res ipsa loquitur case.

Res Ipsa and Circumstantial Evidence

While direct evidence of a person’s negligence doesn’t always exist, you may use circumstantial evidence to show that they acted negligently. Circumstantial evidence uses facts to show that negligence is the logical conclusion of the situation. 

For example, you clearly consented to a specific medical operation and the doctor performed the wrong one. Showing that this happened may allow the jury or judge to infer negligence based on the situation itself.

Duty of Care

The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed them a duty of care and didn’t fulfill it, which led to their injury. If the accident is outside of the defendant’s set of duties, or they don’t have a duty at all, the accused most likely isn’t liable for the injuries.

If you were trespassing in someone’s yard and got hurt, the owner of the yard wouldn’t be liable. In such a situation, it would be outside of the scope of the landowner’s duty to protect trespassers who come onto the land. The injury would then be the sole responsibility of the person trespassing.

Exclusive Control

Another component of res ipsa loquitur is whether or not the defendant was solely responsible for the accident. The legal system will likely examine whether the responsibility did, in fact, lie in the hands of the accused. In the case of a surgeon leaving an item in the patient’s body, it’s pretty clear that the hospital is at fault and was in control of this occurrence.

In other situations, it may not be so obvious who’s at fault. For instance, a victim suffering injuries while walking by a construction site after not having noticed warning signs nearby. In such an event, res ipsa loquitur probably wouldn’t apply.

Was It Negligence, or Just an Accident?

Negligence is defined as a failure to act with the care that a person would expect someone to act with, given the circumstances. It may consist of failing to fulfill a duty or taking specific actions that led to someone getting harmed. But not all accidents are the result of negligent acts.

It’s important to work with a personal injury attorney to determine the evidence to see if your injury was the result of negligence and whether res ipsa loquitur applies or not. Get in touch with a negligence lawyer today and find out. 

Call our Personal Injury team at (480) 467-4392 to discuss your case today.

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