Res Ipsa Loquitur
Hello, welcome to TransLegal's lesson of the week.
I'm Robin and today we're going to talk about the Latin phrase res ipsa loquitur.
This literally means the thing speaks for itself. And this is a legal doctrine that refers to situations where it is assumed that an injury was caused by negligence because the accident which caused the injury was the sort that absolutely wouldn't happen without negligence.
Maybe this is a little hard to understand without examples, so I'll give you a few examples.
The classic example is the person who has an operation, has her appendix removed, and then some time after the operation she still has pain in her stomach, goes back to the doctor, takes an x-ray and sees that the scalpel, or the surgical knife, was still inside of her when she was sewn up. This is a clear case of res ipsa loquitur. There is no reason other than negligence that a doctor would sew a scalpel into somebody's stomach. So this would mean that if she were to sue the doctor or the hospital, all she would have to put into evidence was the fact that there was a scalpel sewn up in her stomach. That would be enough to imply that there was negligence and it would shift the burden of proof to the defendant in this case, the doctor or the hospital, to prove that there was some other non-negligent reason for leaving that scalpel in her stomach.
Other classic examples of the use of res ipsa loquitur are, for instance, where a dead mouse is found in a soda bottle. There's absolutely no reason for a dead mouse to be in a soda bottle except that there was some negligence when the soda was being packaged. Or something that happened to me about a year ago – I was eating my tuna fish sandwich at lunch and all of a sudden I bit on something hard. I took it out of my mouth. It was shiny. It was a piece of glass. Now there is no reason for a piece of glass to be in a tuna fish sandwich except if there was some negligence in the way that it was prepared. So that meant that if I wanted to sue the restaurant where I bought the sandwich I could have just introduced into evidence the fact that there was a piece of glass in my sandwich and it would be up to the restaurant to somehow disprove that that was not negligent, to somehow show that there was a good reason for that glass to be in the sandwich. They probably couldn't do that. I didn't sue anyway because I didn't suffer any injuries, but if I had, it would have been an easy case for me by using the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.
Now this is a mouthful. People don't always say it. They sometimes just talk about a res ipsa case or just sometimes say res ipsi. This is not a bad idea to use these shorted forms because loquitur is hard to say and is very often misspelled. So there is nothing wrong with talking about a res ipsa case.
Now there are a few other common situations in which res ipsa loquitur is applied as a doctrine, for instance, when two trains collide, because there is no good reason for trains to be in the same place at the same time without negligence. When commercial airlines have an airplane accident that can only be caused by negligence, it is assumed. Or, a case that everybody reads about when they are in law school. When you're walking down the street and a piano flying from the air hits you on the head.
As you can understand, in all of these cases the thing speaks for itself and there's no need for further explanation to show that there is negligence.
So that is a short exposé on the law of res ipsa loquitur.
Thanks for listening and we look forward to your comments.