What Is Res Ipsa Loquitur and When Can It Be Invoked?

An injured worked invokes Res Ipsa Loquitur in a personal injury case.

If you haven’t had much experience with the legal system, it can seem like it was deliberately designed to be as confusing as possible for non-lawyers. There are many different terms used in the legal system that are used nowhere else. To top it off, many of these terms are in Latin.

One important legal term in personal injury cases is “res ipsa loquitur.” The Latin phrase roughly translates as “the thing speaks for itself.” It’s a term used to describe how evidence can establish that a defendant acted negligently and should be held liable for someone else’s injuries. Understanding this concept and how it works is essential if you’re involved in a personal injury claim against another party.

The Atlanta, Georgia personal injury lawyers at the Butler Law Firm have been helping people recover compensation for their injuries for many years now. We’ve received numerous professional honors for our work, including being named “Rising Stars” by Georgia Super Lawyers for 2021.

If you would like to discuss legal issues related to your claim with an experienced lawyer, feel free to reach us by phone or through our contact page.

Legal Terms You Need to Know

Before digging into how res ipsa loquitur applies to personal injury cases, we need to define a few other related terms. Those terms are:

  • Negligence – Most personal injury cases are based on the legal concept of negligence. Negligence occurs when someone fails to uphold their legal responsibility to prevent someone else from suffering harm. When someone fails in this responsibility, they can be held liable for their actions and compelled to compensate the injured party.
  • Duty of care – When someone has a legal responsibility to prevent another party from being injured, they are said to have a “duty of care” toward that party. If someone fails to uphold their duty of care to another person, they can be found negligent and held liable for their actions.
  • Rebuttal presumption – In legal proceedings, a rebuttal presumption is a set of facts presented to the court that’s accepted as true unless and until the other side offers evidence to the contrary.
  • Circumstantial evidence – Not all evidence can directly tie someone to a negligent or criminal act. Evidence that implies facts about someone without explicitly linking them to a negligent or criminal act is known as circumstantial evidence.

Now that we’ve covered some of these basic legal terms, we can look more closely at res ipsa loquitur and how it’s used in personal injury claims.

Res Ipsa Loquitur’s Meaning and Elements

To recover compensation in a personal injury claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant acted negligently and that their negligence directly led to the patient’s injuries. However, depending on how the plaintiff was injured, there may not be much in the way of direct evidence.

To get around this legal barrier, a plaintiff in a personal injury claim could invoke res ipsa loquitur. Res ipsa loquitur is a legal principle that allows plaintiffs to use circumstantial evidence to establish a rebuttal presumption that the defense must counter. The idea behind res ipsa loquitur is that if evidence indicates that an accident almost certainly resulted from the defendant’s negligence, it becomes the defendant’s responsibility to prove they were not negligent, rather than placing the burden of proof on the plaintiff.

Plaintiffs have to meet specific requirements to use res ipsa loquitur in a personal injury claim. They include:

  • The incident would not usually occur unless someone was acting negligently.
  • The alleged negligent actions are within the defendant’s duty of care toward the plaintiff.
  • The circumstances of the incident were solely within the control of the defendant.
  • The available evidence shows no one but the defendant caused the victim’s injuries.
  • The available evidence shows that the victim did not cause their own injuries.

When and How Can Res Ipsa Loquitur Be Used?

The requirements for invoking res ipsa loquitur vary slightly from state to state. Georgia courts have allowed personal injury plaintiffs to use res ipsa loquitur to recover compensation for their injuries, but it’s a high standard for plaintiffs to meet. Even if the evidence is circumstantial, you’ll need strong proof to establish your rebuttal presumption.

Because of the high standard of proof needed to invoke res ipsa loquitur, it’s generally used in more complicated personal injury claims where direct evidence may be hard to come by, such as:

  • Medical malpractice cases
  • Defective products claims
  • Premises liability injuries 
  • Catastrophic accidents

Rebuttals of Res Ipsa Loquitur

It’s important to know that just because you can use res ipsa loquitur to establish a rebuttal presumption doesn’t mean you’ve won your claim. Once the rebuttal position has been established, the defendant has the opportunity to present evidence. If their evidence undercuts the claims you’ve made, you could lose your chance to recover compensation for your injuries.

For example, if the defendant shows that you contributed to your injuries somehow, that would nullify one of the requirements necessary to establish your case using res ipsa loquitur.

When Do You Need Legal Help?

Strictly speaking, you don’t need a lawyer to file a personal injury claim. Still, you’ll likely have a much greater chance of receiving full financial recovery with help from an experienced and qualified personal injury lawyer. If you want to use res ipsa loquitur to establish negligence, you’ll need to be very careful about finding the proper evidence and using it correctly. You’ll also need to refute any counterclaims made by the defendant.

If you’ve sustained severe injuries due to someone else’s negligence, your future could be on the line when you file your personal injury claim. With so much at stake, getting help from an attorney is essential if you want your best chance at recovering full compensation for your losses.

If you’d like to speak with the lawyers at Butler Law Firm about your case, we are ready to talk with you whenever you’re ready. Call us or reach out online for a free claim review.