What Is Res Ipsa Loquitur?

Laws | July 19, 2021

Most people left their Latin studies behind in school, if they even had any Latin at all. So when you see “res ispa loquitur,” chances are you probably have no idea what that means.
“The thing speaks for itself.”

That is the translation of res ispa loquitur. However, simply giving you the translation does not help very much, particularly when it comes to understanding how this applies in the legal realm. Here, our Sacramento injury lawyers want to further define what this means and discuss situations where this may apply when it comes to the courtroom.

What Is Res Ipsa Loquitur?

What Does This Mean for a Case

In tort or injury law, res ispa loquitur is a doctrine that means that we can presume the negligence of the defendant in certain circumstances if there is supporting evidence in the case. A plaintiff can use res ispa loquitur, along with circumstantial evidence, to establish a rebuttal presumption of negligence.

In these cases, it would then be necessary for the defendant to prove that they were not negligent, as opposed to normal circumstances where the plaintiff has the burden of proof to show the negligence of the defendant.

Res ispa loquitur can be incredibly beneficial to plaintiffs during personal injury cases, but this is not easy to assert.

Defining Res Ispa Loquitur and Ground of Liability

The only time res ispa loquitur will be able to be used in an injury case is if the plaintiff has circumstantial evidence that makes the negligence of the defendant obvious (so that the negligence speaks for itself).

Circumstantial evidence in these situations can be anything that helps juries or a judge arrive at the logical conclusion that the defendant was negligent.

When it comes to most personal injury cases, a significant burden of proof will fall to the plaintiff (the injury victim). It is the plaintiff’s job to prove that the defendant breached their duty of care in some way and that their negligence or recklessness caused the incident and injuries. If there is no direct evidence that the defendant’s breach of duty occurs, a plaintiff can assert res ispa loquitur.

When we look at the Cornell Law School definition of res ispa loquitur, we can see that a plaintiff must prove three things in these cases:

  1. The incident would not have happened had there not been some type of negligence involved. In other words, a reasonable person needs to be able to infer that negligence must have played a role.
  2. The thing that caused the incident and injuries had to have been in the defendant’s control. In order to name a defendant without clear evidence, the plaintiff has to show that the defendant was in complete control of whatever caused the injury.
  3. The plaintiff cannot have contributed to their own injuries in any way in order for res ispa loquitur to be used. This can be very difficult to prove in court, particularly if there are no witnesses, as well as in cases where contributory negligence is a common defense, such as slip and fall accident lawsuits.

Working With an Attorney

If you or somebody you care about has been injured due to the negligent or reckless actions of someone else, you need to work with an attorney as soon as possible. Even if there is no clear proof that the defendant caused the incident, an attorney may be able to help you use res ispa loquitur to make your case to a judge or a jury in order for you to recover compensation for your losses.