Res Ipsa Cases and Examples

Exlploding bottle
illustration of a bottle with a face on a white background

Res Ipsa Loquitur is a phrase that has entered into the legal lexicon for cases under the doctrine of negligence. Common negligence is a slightly different situation. In this piece, we will discuss the history and the modern approach to this fascinating, and not so often discussed the subject.

Res Ipsa Loquitur and Legal Implications

Res ipsa loquitur is one of the most common and essential to understanding part of the American 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 on the defendant’s behalf. This claim would have to be rebutted by the defendant rather than the typical accusation of the defendant acting negligently and intentionally.

To prove that the defendant acted negligently, many methods exist for the plaintiff could proceed. In some cases, the issue is open-and-shut, with clear evidence emerging of intentional misconduct. In many other cases, the lines are not as clear. 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 understand that the actions taken by the defendant can be reasonably assumed to have caused the incident by their action or inaction.


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. 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 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 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 defendant may be able to defend themselves through several means. Since res ipsa is used to infer the negligence of the defendant rather than prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, defendants can show several things. One includes that such an injury could occur no matter what actions the defendant took, including acts of God.

Furthermore, if the defendant can prove that the plaintiff’s actions helped caused the event, then res ipsa does not apply. Lastly, if it can be shown that the defendant does not owe the plaintiff any duty of care or that the event occurred outside of such duty, then res ipsa is not relevant.

  • 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

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.


Michael Ehline - PI Law Tutorials

Michael Ehline is a highly trained personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, CA. He writes educational articles to help injured consumers.


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