How Can Res Ipsa Loquitur Be Used in a Pennsylvania Injury Lawsuit?
In certain instances, victims might not have to totally prove that another party caused their injuries to recover compensation in Pennsylvania. Instead, if a victim’s injuries could not have happened if not for another party’s negligence, res ipsa loquitur might apply.
Res ipsa loquitur is a legal principle allowing negligence to be implied under certain conditions. Using this principle can allow plaintiffs in some personal injury claims to avoid meeting the usual elements of a negligence claim. Res ipsa loquitur is only used sparingly, most commonly in medical malpractice claims involving a foreign object left behind during surgery.
To schedule a free, confidential analysis of your case with our Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers, call The Reiff Law Firm today at (215) 709-6940.
What Conditions Must Be Met to Use Res Ipsa Loquitor in a Pennsylvania Injury Claim?
In many personal injury claims, our Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys have to prove that negligence occurred by meeting four key elements. In certain cases, victims may be able to establish res ipsa loquitur – a Latin term that translates to “the thing speaks for itself.”
In most personal injury claims, victims must prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, the defendant breached the duty of care, the breach of duty caused injuries to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff incurred real damages due to the breach. This is done using evidence that establishes the relationship between the defendant and the victim at the time injuries were caused and by proving that the defendant acted negligently, causing the victim’s injuries. Generally, with medical malpractice claims, the duty must be proven with testimony from medical experts.
Depending on the type of injuries a victim has and the circumstances in which they were injured, a victim may be able to use res ipsa loquitur instead of proving the normal elements of a negligence case. Essentially, res ipsa loquitur is used when the victim cannot have witnessed the incident and has only the circumstances surrounding what happened as proof of the defendant’s negligence. In these cases, common sense dictates that a victim couldn’t have sustained the injuries they did unless another person acted negligently. Instead of negligence being proven, it can be presumed based on the facts surrounding the case.
Types of Injury Claims That Can Use Res Ipsa Loquitur in Pennsylvania?
Res ipsa loquitur cannot be used in all personal injury claims and is most commonly used in medical malpractice claims. As mentioned, res ipsa loquitor can only be used when negligence can be presumed, which commonly occurs in medical malpractice cases involving retained sponges or other foreign objects left inside during surgery.
To successfully use res ipsa loquitur in your personal injury case in Pennsylvania, you must establish three things. First, you must show that you would likely not have sustained such injuries without negligence. Second, you must show that your injuries were caused by “instrumentality” (i.e., any items or forces that caused the incident) in the defendant’s control. And third, you must show that you were not at fault for your injuries yourself.
Res ipsa loquitur is most often applied in medical malpractice cases involving foreign objects left behind by a doctor during surgery. When a patient is under anesthesia, they cannot witness the doctor’s negligence and might not be able to gather proof that the surgeon breached their duty of care. But, a foreign object cannot usually be left inside a patient unless negligence was involved. During surgery, the instrumentality of the incident (i.e., the sponge or tool left behind) is totally within the doctor’s control, and the patient cannot have contributed to the incident because they were unconscious. Because of this, lawyers can use res ipsa loquitor in these cases.
Using Res Ipsa Loquitur in a Pennsylvania Injury Claim
Although using res ipsa loquitur means a plaintiff does not have to meet the ordinary burden of proof for a personal injury claim, they must be able to provide enough circumstantial evidence against a defendant to be successful in their claim.
“Circumstantial” evidence is not always weak or useless like people often imply, but instead speaks to the circumstances surrounding an event. It is often vital evidence, especially in res ipsa loquitor cases.
When making a medical malpractice claim, you usually need to prove the duty of care that the doctor owed you. This means hiring medical experts to examine the facts of the case and determine what the doctor should and should not do in that case – and whether the doctor in your case performed adequately or not. In a case dealing with misdiagnosis or whether a complication should have been eliminated, this expert testimony will be important. With cases of retained sponges and other objects left inside the patient, this expert testimony might not help at all.
Expert testimony is not enough to meet the criteria of res ipsa loquitur in some cases, according to a 2016 ruling from the Pennsylvania Superior Court. For expert testimony to establish the elements of a res ipsa loquitur case, it must be based on actual fact, not just a witness’s informed opinion. For this reason, our lawyers will carefully examine the facts of what happened in your case and rely on medical records and testimony from nurses and doctors in the room when the malpractice occurred.
Circumstantial evidence can help plaintiffs establish res ipsa loquitur as well. One important fact needed is a witness stating that the defendant surgeon or medical professional was actually in the room with the victim when they sustained their injuries. While this does not definitively prove that the defendant absolutely injured a plaintiff, it can help meet the criteria for proving res ipsa loquitur in Pennsylvania.
File Your Injury Claim in Pennsylvania Today
Call The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940 to get a free evaluation of your case from our Philadelphia personal injury lawyers today.