In most personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff must specifically prove that someone’s negligence caused an accident and related injury. The simple fact that an injury occured does not automatically mean someone was negligent, or unreasonably careless. Plaintiffs can prove negligence by showing a defendant breached a legal obligation aimed at ensuring safety. Plaintiffs can also prove negligence by showing the defendant was more careless than he should have been. There are different standards for negligence in different kinds of personal injury cases, but plaintiffs still have to show that some failure of care was the cause of harm.
There is an exception to this rule. That exception is the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitor. Res ipsa loquitor means the thing speaks for itself. This legal doctrine recognizes that there are certain kinds of injuries that only happen when someone has been negligent. In cases where res ipsa loquitor applies, a plaintiff doesn’t have to prove the defendant was negligent, the injury itself is proof enough.
What is Res Ipsa Loquitor?
The doctrine of res ipsa loquitor was first created in an 1863 English case called Byrne v. Boadle. In this particular case, a man walking outside a flour warehouse was struck in the head when a barrel fell from the building. He sustained injuries and sued for damages. The court held that the falling barrel was “prima facie” evidence of negligence. “Prima facie” means on its face, or at first sight. The court essentially ruled that the simple facts of what happened suggested negligence was involved, and thus there was no need to look further. A barrel would not have fallen out of the building if something had not gone wrong.
Today, res ipsa loquitor is used in a variety of personal injury cases by plaintiffs who sustain harm. For example, when a doctor operates on the wrong part of a patient’s body, this mistake obviously and clearly would not have been made unless someone was negligent at some point.
Determining whether the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitor applies to a particular case is a challenge. In general, in res ipsa loquitor cases, no expert witnesses are needed to show why conduct was negligent. The negligence is so apparent that any person would see it upon hearing the basic facts of how the injury happened.
Res Ipsa Loquitor in Your California Personal Injury Case
California Civil Jury Instruction 417 explains the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor. In res ipsa loquitor cases, the plaintiff only has to prove:
- The specific harm the plaintiff experienced would not have happened absent negligence.
- The harm the plaintiff endured was caused by something under the exclusive control of the defendant.
- The plaintiff did not take any voluntary actions that caused or contributed to the harmful events.
The jury instruction also makes clear that even if the jury does not believe the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor applies, it can still find for the plaintiff if the jury believes the plaintiff has proved negligence by showing a breach of legal duty.
Getting Help from a Long Beach Injury Lawyer
Your Injuries are Personal to Me
I have extensive experience with res ipsa loquitor cases and I can help you to determine if this doctrine should apply to your injury case. If res ipsa loquitor does not apply, I can put together the evidence you need to prove negligence occurred and caused you harm.
Call the Law Office of Michael D. Waks at 888-394-1174 or use the convenient online contact form to schedule a free consultation. You are under no obligation and you will never pay any money unless you recover damages for your injuries. I offer bilingual services as part of my comprehensive approach to legal representation and I am available 24/7 to talk to you about your case.
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