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New York Personal Injury Attorneys

What New Yorkers Need to Know About “Res Ipsa Loquitur”

February 14, 2019 in

Res ipsa loquitur is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.” In legal terms, res ipsa loquitur is a doctrine of law that establishes a presumption of negligence if the individual had exclusive control over what caused the injury, even without evidence of negligence. It is potential grounds for a personal injury claim in New York City.

The Doctrine of Negligence in Personal Injury Law

Most personal injury and wrongful death claims in New York revolve around the doctrine of negligence. Negligence is the failure to fulfill the requirements of legal responsibility, or to breach a duty of care. Most plaintiffs in personal injury cases – or their attorneys – have to prove the defendant’s negligence to qualify for financial compensation. Proving negligence generally takes establishing a duty of care, a breach of duty, causation and damages.

The burden of proving negligence can be heavy for injured accident victims. They may need to invest in thorough accident investigations, and work with attorneys for access to expert witnesses and other resources. It can be difficult to prove a defendant’s fault for an injury depending on the circumstances. If the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies to the case, however, it can relieve the plaintiff of the burden of proving negligence.

How Does Res Ipsa Loquitur Work?

Sometimes, injured victims do not know what caused their injuries – they only know they suffered personal injuries through no fault of their own. Take, for example, an innocent pedestrian walking through New York City. If a construction tool suddenly falls from an elevated construction site and strikes the pedestrian on the head, causing a brain injury, the victim may have grounds to file a lawsuit – even without knowing exactly who or what caused the tool to fall. Res ipsa loquitur can apply in cases where the actual or specific cause of the injury remains unknown.

During a case that uses this doctrine, the jury may infer the presence of negligence without actual evidence, based on the fact that an event happened and the defendant’s relationship to the event. It uses the common sense belief that some accidents, by their nature, could only occur because of negligence. A jury may draw on prior cases, past experiences, and shared standards within the community to rule on a defendant’s negligence in a res ipsa loquitur case.

A situation that may invoke the use of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine is a medical malpractice case involving surgical errors. In this example, if a surgeon operated on or injured an area that differs from the intended operative site, a jury may infer medical malpractice, even if the patient was under anesthesia and does not know exactly how the injury happened. A plaintiff can use the res ipsa loquitur doctrine without ignoring other possible causes of injury.

How to Use Res Ipsa Loquitur to Your Advantage During a Claim

Elevator accidents, Medical malpractice, construction site accidents, and premises liability claims are all common types of cases that may invoke the use of res ipsa loquitur. You may have grounds for this type of claim if three main elements are present.

  1. An accident that would not have occurred in the absence of negligence.
  2. Only one defendant is in exclusive control of the instrumentality that caused the injury.
  3. There was no comparative negligence on the victim’s part.

The presence of these three elements can lead a jury to the reasonable conclusion that the defendant was more likely than not responsible for the injury – despite lack of actual evidence proving the defendant’s negligence or a breach of duty. Indeed, in these cases, the circumstantial evidence must justify the inference of negligence, for a findings of fault.

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