Mesa AZ |What is Res Ipsa Loquitu?

To win a typical personal injury claim, you will have to prove the following:

  1. That the defendant owed you a duty. In many cases, this will be the duty to act as a reasonable person should act in the circumstances.
  2. That the defendant breached the duty. In other words, his or her actions fell below the requirements of the duty.
  3. That the defendant’s breach of duty caused your injury.
  4. That the injury led to damages.

You will need to be specific to meet these requirements and win your case. You will need to identify a specific individual and point to a specific duty that he or she owed you. Then, you will need to explain exactly what he or she did or did not do that constituted a breach of that duty, and why that breach led to your injuries. This means that it is not enough to say, “an accident happened, so the defendant must have been negligent.” Under Arizona law, the fact that an accident occurred does not automatically mean that the defendant was negligent. You have to fill in the blanks, so to speak, in order to show why the defendant should be liable to you.

However, here we must bring up a legal doctrine with a Latin name that all law students memorize in their first year of law school: Res Ipsa Loquitur. This legal doctrine provides an exception to the rule. In a Res Ipsa Loquitur case, the mere fact that an accident occurred can automatically mean that the defendant was negligent. An Arizona jury can conclude that the defendant acted negligently in a Res Ipsa case if the jury finds the following:

  1. The accident occurred as a result of an instrumentality that was under defendant’s exclusive control;
  2. In the normal course of events, the accident would not have occurred unless defendant was negligent; and
  3. Plaintiff is not in a position to show the particular circumstances which caused the accident.

Here is a classic example to illustrate the type of case in which you these requirements could be met and the Res Ipsa Loquitur exception could be applied:

Back in 1944, the California Supreme Court decided a case called Ybarra v. Spangard. If you wish, you can read the full text of the decision here. The basic facts of the case went like this: the plaintiff went to a hospital for a scheduled appendectomy. Various nurses and doctors attended to him, and he remembered being wheeled into the operation room and placed on the operating table. He specifically remembered feeling two hard objects beneath his shoulders on the table. Thereafter, he was given anesthesia and was unconscious for the surgery. When he awoke from surgery, he had a sharp pain in his shoulder area. Over time, the pain worsened and spread, and he ended up with paralysis in his arm and muscle atrophy in his shoulder. The plaintiff consulted other doctors, who indicated that his injuries came from trauma or pressure on his neck and shoulders.

The plaintiff sued a myriad of doctors and nurses at the hospital. He alleged that he had no pain before the surgery, so the fact that he had it directly after the surgery must have meant that the defendant’s acted negligently.  However, because he was unconscious during surgery, he had no specific knowledge of exactly what led to his injury. Essentially, he was bringing his case based on an “inference of negligence” – Res Ipsa Loquitur.

Based on those facts, the California Supreme Court found that the Res Ipsa exception applied to the case. Of course, Arizona has different laws now than California did in the 1940’s, but the Ybarra case remains an excellent example of Res Ipsa Loquitur. You can see how the case would likely end up the same under current Arizona law. Let us go back to Arizona’s three Res Ipsa requirements:

The first requirement would likely be satisfied. In the Ybarra case, any instrumentality that could have caused the plaintiff’s injuries was certainly under the defendants’ exclusive control. The plaintiff had no control over how his surgery was performed or with what methods and instruments it was carried out – he was unconscious.

The second requirement would also be met. An appendectomy performed pursuant to the “normal course” would not result in a serious shoulder injury unless it was performed negligently.

Finally, the plaintiff was most definitely not in a position to show the particular circumstances that led to his injury. He was unconscious and completely unaware of specifically what occurred during the time of his unconsciousness.

Because all the requirements are met, a hypothetical Arizona jury would likely find that the Res Ipsa Loquitur exception applied to the Ybarra case. The plaintiff would not have to show that the defendant owed him a duty, and he would not have to show how the defendant breached that duty. The jury could presume that the defendant was negligent as long as the Res Ipsa requirements were met.

So, there you have it. While Res Ipsa Loquitur is not applicable to most personal injury cases, it can be the key to winning a case when it does apply. If you think you might have a Res Ipsa Loquitur case, or if you have any other questions, please call.

This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you or someone you know wishes to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney regarding Mesa AZ|Res Ipsa Loquitur or other personal injury matters, call 480.461.5300.