Res Ipsa Cases and Examples


Res Ipsa Loquitur is a phrase that has entered into the legal lexicon for cases falling under the tort law doctrine of civil negligence. Ordinary negligence is a slightly different situation than Res Ipsa. Here are the history and fascinating modern approach to discussing this legal subject.

Res Ipsa Loquitur and Legal Implications

Exploding bottle

Res ipsa loquitur is one of the most common and essential legal theories of monetary recovery when learning about the American common law legal tradition. The Latin term means “the thing that speaks for itself.” When dealing with this concept in personal injury law, this concept acts as an evidentiary rule that allows the plaintiff to organize circumstantial evidence into a claim of negligence against the defendant without proving the defendant directly caused the injuries.

The typical law school example includes the exploding glass coke bottle case causing blindness or a flowerpot dropping off a building’s ledge near a window opening. Whether the occupant or owner was present, a bottle under pressure exploding, or a falling pot from above could maim, injure or kill. Anyone with common sense would know this to be true.

So the law infers defendants’ negligence was afoot because insecure ceramic pots falling, exploding shards of glass shattering, and flying bottle caps from pressure explosion are things that speak for themselves.

Why would someone place unsecured plant containers at locations like ledges, or overhangs making them potentially fall on someone’s head? Do you understand so far?

Negligence Presumed

Because a presumption of negligence exists under res ipsa, the prospective plaintiff may proceed with a cause of action for res ipsa. However, in many other cases, the lines are not as bright as to fault. Fortunately for the plaintiff, this is only one of many theories available under negligence law for a money damages recovery. And a series of environmental factors must be considered to show negligent behavior. In such a case, the concept of res ipsa allows the judge or jury to assume actions taken by the defendant would have led to the same result.


Are There Commonalities of Res Ipsa Across Jurisdictions?

This common factor acts as the so-called ‘common sense’ provision in civil cases. Most states follow this principle in determining whether the defendant caused the accident in question.

Most statutes follow the concept that:

  • Such an accident could only have occurred due to a person’s negligence.
  • The plaintiff or third party could not have caused this event.
  • The event occurred due to a breach of the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff.

In these cases, the defendant must be the only person responsible for this injury. Res Ipsa allows the plaintiff to array a preponderance of evidence to prove this is the case. Factors involved in this include whether or not the defendant had sole control of the object or area that caused the injury. And this could be the case if the defendant allowed a walkway in their apartment building to be unsafe to walk.

In these cases, there is a specific expectation of the defendant’s action relative to the plaintiff. A landlord’s responsibility could include a duty of care, preventing the plaintiff’s harm. If no duty relative to the event exists, res ipsa won’t apply. Imagine a burglar breaking into a home, slipping on a wet floor, suffering head injuries. However, a landlord’s duty to their tenant to warn against slipping and falling on wet floors remains well settled.


Defending Against Res Ipsa

Plaintiff’s burden proving liability becomes presumed as a matter of law, leaving the plaintiff arguing over amounts of damages owed alone. On the civil claim’s other side, a defendant may defend using several means. Since res ipsa loquitur theory infers negligence, the defendant could potentially shift the burden back to the plaintiff. One burden-shifting method is to argue another person or act of God caused everything. Defendants can argue plaintiff’s actions caused/contributed to their injuries. Also, the defendant can say intentional misconduct led to the plaintiff’s injury. In that case, Res ipsa does no longer remains viable as a cause of action because no duty of care or outside commitment existed.

  • Other Examples:

Examples of res ipsa can include an exploding vehicle tire or airbag while a car is traveling down the freeway. In a case like this, with possible causes including tread separation, aftermath such as vehicle rollover speaks for itself. In cases like exploding soda and beer bottles, the bottling company would be the at-fault party– as it speaks for itself.

There can be many potential defendants in res ipsa cases, and a skilled attorney can determine who or what they are. Which corporations did not take the proper procedures that led to injury or accident? Top attorneys can identify, most of all, any potentially liable defendants. So there will be those with the experience and background knowledge to make such a distinction. Of particular concern, these experts can discover who breached their duty of reasonable care.


For More Information About Res Ipsa Law

For more information, please contact the legal experts at Ehline Law today. Our team of attorneys has effectively aided clients on both sides of the courtroom in res ipsa and other suits. We can help guide you through the process and offer a free consultation and discuss your options. We work on a contingency fee basis, so we don’t ask you for any money unless we recover for you. Learn about your potential case today by calling (213) 596-9642.

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