How is Res Ipsa Loquitur useful in a Personal Injury Claim?

Res ipsa loquitur is a legal doctrine that allows for an inference of negligence in the instance circumstantial evidence is present in such an action. The phrase is Latin for, “the thing speaks for itself”. This doctrine is used in cases where something negligent occurred even though there is no direct evidence of causation. This can be useful for many plaintiffs in connection with personal injury claims. If a person is injured with no direct evidence of proximate cause, then res ipsa loquitur can allow a court to infer negligence and the injured party may be able to recover.

The elements of res ipsa loquitur in Illinois include:

  1. The occurrence was one that would not have happened in the absence of negligence; and
  2. The instrumentality or agency that caused the injury was with the control or knowledge of the defendant; and
  3. The plaintiff was injured or suffered property damage.

When a court finds that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur does apply, a plaintiff does not have to show direct proof of causation that the conduct of the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Note that this does not shift the burden of proof so a plaintiff is still required to present evidence of the injury even if it is all circumstantial. With the evidence presented the court will weigh the strength of the inference claim. Essentially, the circumstantial evidence must be so overwhelming as to virtually eliminate the possibility of any other cause except the negligence of the defendant. This does not mean that all elements of the doctrine must be conclusively proven. The defendant does not have to put forth any evidence to disprove the plaintiff’s claim but they can rebut the presumption of negligence by providing another reasonable explanation for how the situation could have occurred in the absence of negligence or that the instrumentality was not in the control of the defendant.

There are many examples of personal injuries that may need the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Many instances for personal injury victims are because of accidents or because of medical injuries. For instance, a patient who was checked-in to a nursing home develops bruising on her face. The family sues the nursing facility for negligence. The plaintiff may seek the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur since the patient was in the exclusive control of the nursing facility when the injuries occurred.

Note that in some instances, res ipsa loquitur would not apply. For instance, in some states, medical malpractice cases need testimony as to the standard of care. It is best to check with a local attorney for the laws in your state.


This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Do not rely on the above information as all cases are different and different laws apply to different cases.

Consult an attorney in your area for further guidance. If you were injured by an accident please call one of our attorneys at David K. Kremin & Associates, and we will give you a free consultation. We never charge unless we collect for you. Please call 1(800) ASK-A-LAWYER or 1(800)275-2529.