The “Res Ipsa” Doctrine: What It Means And How To Use It

The law recognizes that personal injury plaintiffs have certain difficulties in proving some forms of injuries, such as medical malpractice injuries. In such complex cases, the law can provide a way out by employing a legal doctrine known as "Res Ipsa Loquitur" or "Res Ipsa" in short.

Literally translated "the thing speaks for itself," it means the plaintiff only needs to show that the injury wouldn't have occurred without someone else's negligence. After that, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant who then has to show that they didn't cause the plaintiff's injuries. Here are the elements you need to prove to use the "Res Ipsa" doctrine"

The Evidence of the Cause of the Injury Is Unobtainable

You can only proceed with the "Res Ipsa" doctrine if the evidence for the cause of the injury is unobtainable. If you can obtain evidence for your injury's cause, then you will be required to obtain it and proceed with your case as usual. Consider a case in which you are alleging injury from a drug that only stays in your system for a couple of days. If you realize the injury after three days, you won't be able to prove the cause of the injury since the drug will be out of your system by then. In such a case, you may proceed with "Res Ipsa."  

The Injury Can't Occur Without Negligence

You will also need to prove that the kind of injury you suffered wouldn't have occurred without another person's negligence. Consider a case in which you are claiming that a surgeon operated on the wrong kidney. Since kidneys are located on opposite sides of the body, there is no way a person can operate on the wrong one "accidentally" without someone's negligence having causing the accident.

You Did Not Cause the Injury

You also need to rule out the possibility of your injury being a self-inflicted one. Consider two types of injury; one injury is caused by a drug overdose that was injected into you by a nurse and the other one where you have suffered overdose injuries from tablets you took on your own. Only the first injury can trigger a "Res Ipsa" doctrine lawsuit because you clearly didn't cause the injury on your own.

The Defendant Had Exclusive Control of the Factors That Caused the Injury

Another element of "Res Ipsa" doctrine is that you have to prove that the defendant, and no one else, had control of the factors that caused your injury. For example, if you were injured during a surgical operation handled by a team of surgeons, it would be difficult to single out one of them for the medical malpractice claim using "Res Ipsa." However, you can base your claim on the doctrine if the operation was handled by a single surgeon since they were solely in charge of the situation.

No Other Thing Could Have Caused the Injury

Lastly, you will also have to prove that no other thing could have caused your injury. This means ruling out pre-existing medical issues, other medications or other treatments that could have caused the injury. A medical malpractice lawyer service in your area can help you rule out such possibilities.