What is Res Ipsa Loquitur?

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If you’ve heard of Res Ipsa Loquitur before, chances are you still may be confused about what it actually means. Don’t worry – you are not alone! It is can be a confusing type of negligence. Before we dive into exactly what it is, let’s start from the beginning.

Accident attorneys handle personal injury cases. In order to have a personal injury case, several things need to exist:

  1. You sustained an injury
  2. Your injury is due to someone else’s negligent actions
  3. An insurance company is involved (most attorneys require this)

All of these aspects can be problematic for you, as a Plaintiff, if you’re trying to develop your own case. For example, if you were injured but didn’t receive medical treatment for several months, your injury might be difficult to connect to the accident.

While you can sue a Defendant individually, without an insurance company’s involvement, it is difficult to make sure that you actually recover any money. An insurance company represents, negotiates, and pays on behalf of the Defendant, but only up to their policy limits.

However, it’s the second point that relates to Res Ipsa Loquitur, and that’s the question of someone else’s negligent actions. For example, when you’re injured in a car accident, it’s the negligence of the other driver that causes the wreck. Or perhaps, if both of you were at fault, you carry some of the responsibility, making you both negligent. In any case, in order for you to have a personal injury claim against the other party, there must have been negligent actions on their part.

What is Negligence?

The legal definition of negligence is the failure to act in a way that a person with ordinary care would under the same or similar circumstances. In order to establish negligence, you must prove the following:

  • That the defendant had a duty of care
  • That they breached that duty
  • The breach caused the accident
  • The accident was the proximate cause of what came next, and
  • Damages were caused by the accident

Let’s walk through this slower. In order to prove negligence, you have to prove that the defendant had a duty of care. For example, everyone who drives a vehicle has a duty of care to operate the vehicle within the safety laws and standards that we all abide by. This includes stopping at red lights, leaving enough space between the car in front of you, and staying alert. The first step in proving negligence, is proving that the situation was one in which the defendant had a duty of care.

Second, you must prove that the defendant breached that duty. Once you establish that a duty of care existed, for example with the driving analogy, you must prove that it was breached. Let’s say you and another driver came to a four-way stop. Something happened and both of you believe it’s your turn to go. While you might be able to easily prove that you have a duty of care while operating a vehicle, it may be more difficult to prove that either of you breached that duty. That’s because you both have an argument that you arrived first and under the duty of care, the traffic laws, you are allowed to continue moving first. In order to prove negligence, you must prove that a duty of care existed, but that it was also breached.

Once you pass those steps, you have to prove that the breach of duty caused the accident. Did the accident happen because the defendant breached their duty? Or did it happen because of other circumstances?

Next, you must prove that everything to follow was the proximate cause of the accident. For example, if you were injured from the accident itself, but go into the hospital to find out that you have a lump in your breast, the insurance company does not have to pay for the unrelated injuries. The lump cannot be proven to be caused by the accident, and the accident was not the proximate cause of that issue.

Finally, you must prove you have damages. You may sustain injuries in an accident that you treat with over-the-counter medication. If you can’t prove damages by proving that you visited a doctor or received treatment, then you don’t have a case.

When Does Res Ipsa Loquitur Apply?

Now that you understand how negligence is established, we can finally address what Res Ipsa Loquitur is. Sometimes, it is very easy to see who was negligent in a given situation (like the car accident example stated above). Other times, it might not be easy to prove negligence, but it is clear that there either was or was not negligence.

But what happens when neither of those instances happen? What happens when it’s not clear who was or was not negligent?

Think about the following scenario: you’re walking along the street by an apartment building when a television screen is thrown out a window and lands on your head. Someone had a duty to not throw heavy items onto the street below, but that duty was clearly breached. The breach caused an accident, the television hitting your head was the proximate cause of injuries, and your injuries were treated in a hospital. However, when the police go up to the apartment in question, only one person is there and has been there all day, and he denies ever throwing the television out the window.

This is where Res Ipsa Loquitur comes into play. The translation of this type of negligence is, “the thing speaks for itself.” This means that even when negligence cannot be directly proven, negligence can be accepted because but-for someone’s negligence, the events would not have ever happened. In the above-mentioned example, there is no possible explanation for the television falling out of the window, other than that man’s negligence. Res Ipsa Loquitur is a way for negligence to be proven, even when the facts and circumstances can’t directly prove them.

How does Res Ipsa Loquitur Apply to my Car Accident?

If you were injured in a car accident, or another type of personal injury case, you may want to hire an attorney to help you prove negligence. Insurance companies can try to disprove negligence by attacking any of the factors listed above, whether they prove that the duty didn’t exist, that it wasn’t breached, or that the breach didn’t cause your injuries. They can also attack the damages themselves.

While Res Ipsa Loquitur may apply in your case, an experienced personal injury attorney will be able to argue each point of negligence strategically. Located in Austin, Texas, we invite you to contact McKinney Vos for a free consultation. Please call 512-457-8991, email us, or fill out our form.

Categories: Personal Injury