« on: March 21, 2006, 03:16:28 PM »
Res ipsa loquitur is a legal term from the Latin meaning literally, "The thing speaks for itself". The doctrine is applied to claims which, as a matter of law, do not have to be explained beyond the obvious facts. It is most useful to plaintiffs in negligence cases.
Under the old common law rule, to use res ipsa loquitur in the context of negligence the plaintiff must prove that:
- The harm would not ordinarily have occurred without someone's negligence
- The instrumentality of the harm was under the exclusive control of the defendant at the time of the likely negligent act
- The plaintiff did not contribute to the harm by his own negligence.
The "exclusive control" element has largely given way in modern cases to a less rigid formulation, where the plaintiff must prove that other responsible causes, including the conduct of the plaintiff and third persons, are sufficiently eliminated by the evidence. As a consequence, the third element, that the plaintiff did not contribute to his injury, is subsumed by the new formulation. In addition, it is important to note that contributory negligence is, in modern case law, reckoned in "comparison" to the injury caused by the other. For example, if the negligence of the other is 95% the cause of the plaintiff's injury, and the plaintiff is 5% responsible, the plaintiff's slight fault will not negate the negligence of the other.
- For instance, plaintiff Doe is injured when an elevator he has entered plunges several floors and stops abruptly.
- Roe Corporation built, and is responsible for maintaining, the elevator.
- Doe sues Roe and during the proceedings, Roe claims that Doe's complaint should be dismissed because he has never proved, or for that matter even offered, a theory as to why the elevator functioned incorrectly. Therefore, argues Roe, there is no evidence that they were at fault in the incident.
- The court may hold that Doe does not have to prove anything beyond the fall itself.
- The elevator malfunctioned, Roe was responsible for the elevator in every respect, so they are responsible for the fall.
- The thing speaks for itself.