The Latin phrase means “the thing speaks for itself.”

What Is Res Ipsa Loquitur?

If you have ever spoken to an attorney, chances are good that they have tossed around some unfamiliar words. If you ever went to court — as a juror, party, witness, or just as an observer — you’ve probably heard a few phrases used by the judge or the lawyers that sounded like they weren’t even in English!

Lawyers do like to use big words — and Latin phrases. One of the phrases that comes up a lot in personal injury cases is “res ipsa loquitur,” which is a Latin term that means “the thing speaks for itself.” It is used to prove negligence in cases where there may not be proof that someone actually did something to cause an accident or an injury — but where there is no other reasonable explanation for how it happened other than negligence.

For example, consider a car accident case involving a single driver. An inspection of the car shows that there were no mechanical issues with the vehicle, and the road had no defects. The tires did not blow out, and there were no obstructions or other issues with the road. There were no weather issues at the time of the accident. Cell phone records show that the driver was not using his phone at the time of the accident. The only reasonable explanation for how the accident happened was that the driver was negligent.

In order to use res ipsa loquitur — to ask the judge or jury to assume negligence — the plaintiff in a personal injury case has to establish three separate elements: (1) that the accident or injury would not have ordinarily occurred without negligence; (2) that the thing or incident that caused the incident was under the defendant’s exclusive control; and (3) that the harm was not due to anything the plaintiff did. If the plaintiff can do that, then the defendant will then have to prove that he or she was not responsible. If the defendant cannot prove this, then the plaintiff will win.

A common way that res ipsa loquitur issues arise is in medical malpractice cases. For example, if someone leaves  a piece of medical equipment in a patient during surgery, then the thing speaks for itself: equipment is not left behind during surgery unless the surgical team is negligent. In addition, the operating team would have exclusive control over the equipment, and the plaintiff would not have been able to leave medical equipment in himself during surgery. This is a classic case of res ipsa loquitur.

Proving res ipsa loquitur can be tricky, and requires the skill and knowledge of an experienced personal injury attorney. At the Law Offices of Larry H. Parker, we have helped victims of all types of accidents recover for their injuries for more than 40 years. Together, we have assisted more than 100,000 clients get the money that they deserve for their injuries. Contact us today at 800-333-0000 or to schedule a free no-risk, no-obligation appointment. We never charge a fee unless we recover money for you!