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What Is Res Ipsa Loquitur?

Colburn Law

Res Ipsa Loquitur


To successfully prove a personal injury claim in Washington, you must prove that the defendant in your lawsuit was negligent at the time of your accident. Proving negligence requires you to establish the at-fault party’s duty of care to you, and how a breach of that duty of care directly caused your injuries and losses. If no direct evidence is available proving the defendant’s negligence, you and your Seattle personal injury attorney may turn to a legal doctrine known as res ipsa loquitur.

The Definition of Res Ipsa Loquitur

Res ipsa loquitur is a Latin phrase that translates to “the thing speaks for itself.” This doctrine believes that in certain cases, the facts that are available will provide a presumption that the defendant was negligent. If the plaintiff can provide enough circumstantial evidence that suggests the defendant was negligent, it will become the defendant’s burden to prove that he or she did not act with a negligent state of mind.

Res Ipsa Loquitur in Personal Injury Lawsuits

All personal injury claims rely on the presence of negligence, or the concept that a defendant’s inability to take proper care led to the plaintiff’s damages. To prove negligence, you and your attorney will need to establish four key facts.

  • Duty: The defendant owed you a duty of care at the time of the accident.
  • Dereliction: The defendant breached his or her duty of care to you in some way.
  • Direct causation: The defendant’s negligent actions directly caused the injuries you sustained.
  • Damages: You suffered economic and non-economic losses as a result of the defendant’s actions.

If you do not have concrete evidence to support all of these elements, you may invoke res ipsa loquitur. To establish this doctrine, you and your attorney will need to prove three important criteria.

  • The incident that caused your injuries does not normally occur unless a person acts in negligence.
  • The evidence that you present in your lawsuit rules out the possibility that you are responsible for your injury or that another person or entity is responsible.
  • The negligence you are alleging falls within the scope of the defendant’s duty of care to you at the time of the accident.

For example, say that you are walking near a bakery when a large bag of flour falls out of the store’s window. The flour hits you, causing you to fall to the sidewalk and suffer a broken leg, a concussion, and tailbone bruising. While witnesses saw the flour fall out of the window, no one knows why it fell.

You decide to file a lawsuit against the owner of the bakery, although it is unclear whether he or she is directly responsible for the falling flour. However, you can establish that a rogue bag of flour does not usually fall out of windows unless someone was careless with its placement. Witness testimony establishes that you did not cause the accident, and it is the duty of the owner to maintain safe premises. As a result, your case meets res ipsa loquitur criteria and you can use the doctrine to prove your need for damages.

Cases that lack concrete evidence are highly complex and require significant investigation. If you believe res ipsa loquitur could benefit your lawsuit, speak to your attorney to discuss how to incorporate this doctrine into your claim.