When you suffer injuries due to someone else’s wrongful conduct, you deserve compensation. Sometimes, however, it can be difficult or impossible to gather enough direct evidence of wrongdoing to prove your claim. Res ipsa loquitur, a Latin term meaning “the thing speaks for itself,” is a legal tool that allows you to win a personal injury claim even without direct evidence of fault.
The Legal Elements of a Traditional Negligence Claim
An ordinary negligence claim (one that does not rely on res ipsa loquitur) requires you to prove the following four legal elements to win.
- Duty of care: The opposing party owed you a duty of care. Every competent adult owes everyone else a duty to take reasonable care to prevent themselves from injuring others. Meanwhile, a professional, such as a doctor, is subject to an elevated duty of care because of their training and expertise.
- Breach of duty: Whatever the defendant’s duty, they must have failed to perform it. This could mean a failure to act when action was required (failure to perform a C-section, for example) or an inappropriate act.
- Damages: “Damages” means losses—medical bills, lost earnings, pain and suffering, etc. You must prove every penny of the damages you are claiming.
- Causation: The opposing party’s breach of duty must have been the factual and proximate cause of your damages.
Any of these elements can be in dispute in a personal injury case, but the first and second are the most likely to be contentious.
The Burden of Proof Problem
The burden of proof in a personal injury lawsuit, as opposed to a criminal trial, is “a preponderance of the evidence.” This standard is a lot easier to meet than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that the criminal justice system uses.
In most cases, all you need to win your claim is enough evidence to show that there is a greater than 50% likelihood that the defendant breached their duty of care and thereby caused your injury. However, proving a preponderance of the evidence is a lot more difficult if you lack direct evidence.
A classic example of a res ipsa loquitur claim is where a coke bottle explodes, blinding the consumer with shards of glass. What did the defendant do or fail to do that caused the accident? You might not have any way of finding out. It is situations like these that res ipsa loquitur was designed to deal with.
The Legal Elements of a Res Ipsa Loquitur Claim
If res ipsa loquitur applies to your claim, you can ignore all of the elements of traditional negligence. You can substitute the following res ipsa loquitur elements for the elements of duty, breach, and causation described above:
- The accident is of a kind that rarely occurs without negligence. Think of a hammer falling from the top of a half-finished building under construction, for example.
- The misconduct you allege was within the defendant’s duty of care to you. If you were the pedestrian in the example above, the construction company had a duty of care to protect passing pedestrians.
- The defendant was the only party in control of the circumstances surrounding the accident.
- The evidence eliminates everyone but the defendant as a possible culprit. Only the construction company’s workers were on the roof at the time the hammer fell, for example.
- Your injuries were not self-inflicted.
Normally, the burden of proof is on the person filing the claim (the accident victim) to prove their case. Once you establish res ipsa loquitur, however, the burden of proof reverses. Now, instead of you having to prove that the defendant was negligent, the defendant has to prove that they were not negligent. Proving the negative can be difficult to do.
Proving res ipsa loquitur won’t win your case all by itself, but it will probably shift the betting odds strongly in your favor.
Fertile Ground for Res Ipsa Loquitur Claims
Res ipsa loquitur can be used in just about any kind of personal injury case. It is most commonly used, however, in the following types of cases:
These types of cases are among the hardest to win by proving traditional negligence. Direct evidence of negligence is inherently difficult to uncover under the circumstances that typically characterize these types of claims.
Res ipsa loquitur, if properly executed, can shift the burden of proof of every element of your personal injury claim except the amount of your damages. An experienced personal injury lawyer will know how to prove your damages through evidence such as:
- Your medical records;
- Your employment records (to prove lost earnings); and
Proving non-economic damages such as pain and suffering can be a bit trickier, especially if they amount to most of your claim. You can use evidence such as:
- A pain journal, where you keep a detailed daily record of your pain and suffering as well as the ways in which your injury has affected your life.
- Medical expert testimony on the typical pain suffered by people who suffered the same type of injury as yours.
If you hire a lawyer, then your lawyer’s negotiating skills could make a big difference.
A Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer Could Make Your Case a Lot Easier To Win
Res ipsa loquitur claims can be difficult to win, although they can pay off handsomely if you do. For that, you probably need a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer. Ironically, your chances of negotiating a private settlement are much better if the opposing party knows that you have hired a lawyer with a track record of winning in court.
Call our law firm at (877) 300-4535 to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys of M&Y Personal Injury Lawyers. Our legal team aggressively pursues personal injury claims for maximum compensation for our clients.