Res Ipsa Loquitur is a legal term which in Latin means “the thing speaks for itself.” It is a doctrine of law that one is presumed to be negligent if he/she/it had exclusive control of whatever caused the injury even though there is not specific evidence of an act of negligence. An example would be a foreign object left within a patient who underwent surgery or a surgeon who operates on the wrong limb or organ.

Medical malpractice lawsuits are usually based upon a claim that a medical provider was negligent and the doctors actions fell below an accepted standard of care. Establishing that a doctor’s actions fell below the accepted standard of care requires the expert testimony of another health care provider in the same field of medicine as the defendant.

What if the patient was unconscious when the negligent act occurred and there is insufficient documentation regarding the health care provider’s actions during the medical procedure or surgery, such as in the above examples? It would be very difficult to prove negligence even with the assistance of a medical expert. In cases such as these, medical malpractice attorneys rely on the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, as it allows for the admission of circumstantial evidence to infer negligence.  Once res ipsa loquitur is established, the medical practitioner is then presumed negligent and the burden of proof shifts from the plaintiff to the practitioner to prove otherwise. The plaintiff, or patient, need not prove who committed the improper act. The court instructs the jury to infer that the health care provider was negligent.

Laws differ from state to state regarding the law of res ipsa loquitur in medical malpractice cases. To ensure the proper applicability of res ipsa loquitur, it is advisable to retain a qualified medical malpractice attorney who will consider your possible case and your state’s statutes.

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