Jul 19, 2020

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. In this piece, we will discuss the history and the modern approach to this fascinating, and not so often addressed 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 understand 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 which allows the plaintiff to organize circumstantial evidence into a claim of negligence against the defendant without even 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 that negligence was afoot by the defendants because an insecure ceramic pot falling, exploding shards of glass, and flying bottle caps under pressure are things that speak for themselves. Why would someone allow an unsecured plant container to exist when it could potentially fall? Do you understand all of this so far?

This claim would have to be disputed by the defendant rather than the typical accusation of the defendant acting negligently and intentionally.

Many methods exist to prove the defendant acted negligently under this legal theory. If established, the prospective plaintiff may proceed with a cause of action for res ipsa in some cases. But the issue is only open-and-shut if clear, and convincing evidence emerges at the initial stages of your case that intentional misconduct led to the injury under this legal theory. 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.

Furthermore, in these cases, there is a specific expectation of the action of the defendant relative to the plaintiff. This responsibility could include a duty of care to prevent such an incident from occurring. If there is no such duty of care or the event does not fall within it, then this is not a res ipsa case. Such can be seen with a burglar slipping on a wet floor in a broken-into house. And this is compared to the same incident with a tenant of that property.


Defending Against Res Ipsa.

When on the other side of a civil claim, the defendants may be able to defend themselves through several means. Since the theory of res ipsa infers negligence of the defendant occurred rather than making the plaintiff prove it was caused with proof beyond a reasonable doubt, defendants can show several things to shift the burden back to the defendant. One method of shifting the plaintiff's burden includes arguing such an injury could occur no matter what actions the defendant took, such as acts of God.

Furthermore, if the defendant can prove that the plaintiff's actions helped caused the event, then res ipsa does not apply at all as a cause of action. Last, if the defendant demonstrates no duty of care existed, or that the event occurred outside of such commitment, then res ipsa is disallowed as a cause of action altogether.

  • 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. Then we can discuss your options. Also, we work on contingency. So we don't ask for any money unless we recover for you. Learn about your potential case now at (213) 596-9642.