Experienced Personal Injury Representation

What does ‘res ipsa loquitur’ mean in medical malpractice claims?

The language of the legal world is somewhat unique unto itself. Common phrases often take on new significance in a legal setting. Uncommon phrases — some of them in Latin — also get thrown around a lot.

One of those Latin phrases that gets used a lot in personal injury cases is “res ipsa loquitur.” It means, “the thing speaks for itself,” in English. While it can be used in a variety of situations, it probably gets the most use in medical malpractice cases — where it becomes a game-changer for both the plaintiff and the defendant.

How most medical malpractice claims work

When an injured person files a medical malpractice claim, that person becomes the plaintiff in the case. The person accused of injuring the plaintiff is the defendant.

Defendants are normally assumed to be blameless until the plaintiff proves otherwise. Sometimes, accidents just happen and it’s nobody’s fault. That puts the burden of proving that the defendant’s negligence caused his or her injury entirely on the plaintiff. When a plaintiff can’t make the case for negligence, the defendant doesn’t have to pay any compensation.

What happens when “res ipsa loquitor” is involved

Sometimes, the only common-sense explanation for an accident or injury is that someone had to be negligent. That’s simply the most reasonable explanation.

In other words, the fact that the accident or injury even occurred in the first place pretty much speaks volumes and shows the negligence of the defendant clearly. For example, when a surgeon performs a surgery on a patient’s left leg instead of his or her right leg or a dental surgeon removes a healthy tooth instead of a decayed one, the only likely explanation is the surgeon’s negligent actions.

When that happens, the job of the plaintiff’s attorney gets a lot easier because the normal procedures get flipped upside down. The defendant is essentially presumed to be negligent from the beginning. (Defendants can try to overcome this inference, but it’s usually a tough job.) All the plaintiff has to prove is that he or she was truly injured and to what extent.

It’s important to tell an attorney everything about the experience that led to possible medical malpractice situation. Sometimes, the details will lead to a discovery that will put a unique legal theory into play — and that could be an important step toward your eventual recovery.

Source: FindLaw, “Res Ipsa Loquitur,” accessed May 18, 2018