Serving injury victims in the Tri-cities, Columbia Basin, Eastern Washington and Oregon.

PLEASE NOTE: To protect your safety in response to the threats of COVID-19, we are offering our clients the ability to meet with us in person, via telephone or through video conferencing. Please call our office to discuss your options.

What does “res ipsa loquitor” mean for a medical malpractice case?

On Behalf of | Aug 16, 2021 | Medical Malpractice

When a health care provider fails to provide a certain standard of care, and a patient is injured or killed, damages can be sought and obtained in a medical malpractice suit. Doctors are only human, and as such, are not above making mistakes. However, medical malpractice most often goes beyond human error and enters into the realm of negligence, breach of duty and unprofessional deviation from standards of care. 

The burden of proof for establishing culpability squarely rests on the injured party. It is often an immense challenge to prove that there was wrongdoing on the part of the physician. But what if the physician’s conduct is so far out of the norm that it’s clearly evident that some kind of negligence must have been involved?

How the doctrine of “res ipsa loquitor” affects a case

Res ipsa loquitur” is a Latin phrase that can be translated as “the thing speaks for itself.”  When an injury was unlikely to happen without involving some form of negligence, then this legal doctrine can be invoked. 

The strategic benefit is the burden of proof is no longer on the patient or their surviving family, but the physician must prove that they were not negligent. To use this legal position the following must be established:

  • Evidence is unobtainable: When proof of the exact cause is impossible to get for some reason.
  • Unordinary: The harm that was done is not likely to have occurred without negligence.
  • Not self-inflicted: The patient had nothing to do whatsoever with the damage that they incurred.
  • Exclusive control: The physician or health care facility had complete control over causing the injury or death.
  • Control led to cause: The injury could not have happened as a result of anything other than the medical professional’s actions.

For example, imagine that you went into have surgery on your stomach. You continue having pain long after you should have healed. An x-ray shows that a surgical tool was left inside you. That sort of incident clearly “speaks for itself.”

Medical malpractice suits can be complicated. The right legal guidance can make the process much easier.