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What is “Res Ipsa Loquitur” in California Personal Injury Cases?

Res ipsa loquitur is a doctrine of circumstantial evidence that is sometimes used in personal injury cases. It’s a Latin phrase that translates into “the thing speaks for itself.” It’s used when specific factual circumstances lead to an inference that an accident and injuries were caused by negligence, but any evidence of negligence is known and under the control of the defendant. 

Elements of Res Ipsa Loquitur

For purposes of invoking res ipsa loquitur, the following three elements must be proven:

  • The injury wouldn’t have occurred in usual circumstances without negligence, and
  • The instrumentality that caused the accident and injuries was under the control of the defendant at the time of the accident complained of.
  • The accident cannot have occurred as a result of the claimant’s contributions or voluntary actions.

Two Examples of Res Ipsa Loquitur

A common example of res ipsa loquitor would be a sponge or surgical instrument that was left inside of a patient’s body after a surgery. A brick falling off of a high building and hitting a pedestrian might be another example. As per CACI 417, if an injured claimant fails to establish a presumption of negligence in a res ipsa loquitur case, a jury can still find a defendant guilty of ordinary negligence based on its consideration of all of the evidence in the case. For purposes of medical malpractice cases, CACI 518 would likely apply. The same rule about a finding of common law negligence also applies.

Defenses to Res Ipsa Loquitur in California

Upon proving the elements of res ipsa loquitor, a presumption of negligence arises, but it’s a rebuttable presumption. Three defenses to the presumption exist. Those follow:

  • The defendant acted as an ordinary reasonable and prudent person would have acted at the time of the injury.
  • The defendant didn’t have exclusive control over the instrumentality that caused the claimant’s injuries at the time of the accident.
  • The claimant’s negligence was the sole cause of the accident or injuries.

Contact a California Res Ipsa Loquitur Lawyer Today

There’s nothing mystical about res ipsa loquitur. It’s a combination of the facts of the case and common sense. Courts continue to use the doctrine, and claimants shouldn’t have to prove obvious causes of injury. Remember though that if you can’t raise the presumption of res ipsa loquitur, common law negligence must be proved in order to recover compensation for your injuries and damages. In either case, you’ll be in need of a skilled and dedicated California personal injury lawyer. Contact us at Maison Law after being injured in any accident anywhere in California. We’ll be pleased to arrange for a consultation with a knowledgeable and highly respected California personal injury lawyer from our offices. If we’re retained to represent you, we’ll be fully prepared to address both res ipsa loquitur and common law negligence in seeking the maximum compensation possible for your injuries and damages.

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