What is res ipsa loquitur, and how does it affect my accident case?

Res ipsa loquitur, a Latin phrase meaning “the thing speaks for itself,” applies to accident cases where negligence is assumed based on the way the injury occurred. Much like negligence per se, this legal doctrine makes it easier to prove that a defendant was responsible for a victim’s suffering.

In a typical accident case, injury victims are required to prove four elements of negligence: the defendant owed the victim a duty of care, the defendant breached the duty of care, the injury was a direct result of the breach, and the victim suffered as a result of the injury. However, if res ipsa loquitur applies, breach of duty of care is assumed and the victim only needs to prove the tenets of the law regarding his injury.

When Res Ipsa Loquitur May Apply to an Injury Case

Res ipsa loquitur is only applied to cases where the injury that occurred could only have been caused by negligence. It is often used in medical malpractice cases, since patients often have little control what happens to them when they are hospitalized, undergoing surgery, or are following a doctor’s recommended course of treatment. For example, there is an express duty of care between a surgeon and a patient—and if the surgeon operates on the wrong body part, he has breached the duty of care.

Res ipsa loquitur may apply to a case if both of the following are true:

  • The type of accident that occurred is usually a result of negligence. There are many ways accidents can occur, and res ipsa loquitur relies on the specific manner in which the injury occurred—in other words, whether the defendant could have avoided causing injury by exercising more care. If the injury was inevitable (such as a severe infection in a patient that could not have been prevented), res ipsa loquitur may be defeated.
  • The defendant had sole control over the conditions that led to injury. Res ipsa loquitur may not apply if the victim shared some responsibility for the injury. For example, a victim on a cell phone may be distracted at the moment he or she is struck by a driver making an illegal turn. In these cases, the court may reduce the amount of a victim’s damages under the law of comparative negligence.

The injury attorneys at GriffithLaw can examine the negligence laws that apply to your case and advise you of your next steps at no cost to you. Our injury attorneys provide initial consultations free of charge, and we do not collect any legal fees until your case is resolved. To learn more about your rights, simply fill out the short contact form on this page or request a free copy of our book, The 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Your Tennessee Injury Case.

John Griffith
Nashville Personal Injury Trial Attorney