(rayz ip-sah loh-quit-her) n.  Latin.  “The thing speaks for itself.”

Res ipsa loquitur is a doctrine in the law of negligence that creates a rebuttable presumption that a defendant was negligent in causing the injury upon plaintiff presenting proof that the instrumentality that caused the injury was in defendant’s exclusive control at the time of the accident and that the accident was of the nature that ordinarily does not happen in the absence of one’s negligence.

Under this rule, the negligence of the defendant may be inferred from the fact that the accident happened, provided that the character of accident and circumstances surrounding it lead to a reasonable belief that in the absence of negligence the accident would not have occurred and that the thing which caused the injury is shown to have been under management and control of the defendant.

Elements:

In order to create an inference of neglignece, a plaintiff must establish each of the following elements:

  1. The accident was one that ordinarily would not have occurred unless someone was negligent;
  2. Defendant had exclusive control over the agency or instrumentality that caused the accident; and
  3. Plaintiff’s own actions did not cause or contribute towards the accident.

Reference Desk

Ybarra v. Spangard, 25 Cal. 2d 486 (1944).

“The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur has three conditions: ‘(1) the accident must be of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone’s negligence; (2) it must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; (3) it must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff.'”

Dermatossian v. New York City Transit Authority, 67 N.Y. 2d 219 (1986).

“The doctrine res ipsa loquitur represents an application of the ordinary rules pertaining to circumstantial evidence in negligence cases stemming from accidents having particular characteristics. When the doctrine is invoked, an inference of negligence may be drawn solely from the happening of the accident upon the theory that ‘certain occurrences contain within themselves a sufficient basis for an inference of negligence’ The rule simply recognizes what we know from our everyday experience: that some accidents by their very nature would ordinarily not happen without negligence. Res ipsa loquitur does not create a presumption in favor of the plaintiff but merely permits the inference of negligence to be drawn from the circumstance of the occurrence. The rule has the effect of creating a prima facie case of negligence sufficient for submission to the jury, and the jury may — but is not required to — draw the permissible inference.

In New York it is the general rule that submission of the case on the theory of res ipsa loquitur is warranted only when the plaintiff can establish the following elements: ‘(1) the event must be of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone’s negligence; (2) it must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; (3) it must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff.’ Only when these essential elements have been established, after the plaintiff has first demonstrated the nature of the instrumentality which caused the injury and its connection with the defendant, does a prima facie case of negligence exist.”

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