Personal injury law contains hundreds of Latin phrases that are not used in everyday conversation. However, these Latin phrases can have a significant impact on the outcome of your personal injury claim. One of those phrases is res ipsa loquitur

Proving Negligence in Personal Injury Cases

Under New York personal injury laws, most cases require the victim to prove that the other party was negligent

For example, in a car accident case, the victim must typically prove that the other driver’s negligence caused the crash. Possibly the driver failed to yield the right of way or changed lanes improperly, thereby causing a rollover accident. The key is that another driver did something to cause the truck accident

In a slip and fall case, the victim would need to prove that the property owner knew or should have known about a dangerous hazard and was negligent in failing to correct the hazard. For product liability cases, the victim would prove the manufacturer was negligent in producing a dangerous product that caused an injury.

Each personal injury case involves the basic elements of a negligence claim. The basic legal elements of a negligence claim are:

  • A party owed the victim a duty of care
  • The party breached the duty of care
  • The breach of care created a dangerous or hazardous situation
  • The dangerous or hazardous situation was the reason the victim was injured
  • The victim sustained damages because of the breach of duty

In negligence cases, there must be evidence to support each of the elements of negligence. However, some cases might not involve direct evidence of negligence. In those cases, res ipsa loquitur may help the victim recover compensation without direct evidence of negligence.

How Does Res Ipsa Loquitur Apply in Personal Injury Cases?

Res ipsa loquitur translates as “the thing speaks for itself.” In a personal injury case that lacks direct evidence, the “thing speaks for itself” means that there is no other way the incident could have occurred without the negligence of another party. 

For example, pianos do not randomly fall out of windows. However, what happens if a piano falls out of the window and causes the victim to sustain traumatic brain injuries? Someone must have been negligent, and that negligence led to the piano falling out of the window. 

Res ipsa loquitur assumes that negligence was the cause of the incident when there is no other reasonable explanation. The evidence is circumstantial. However, the victim could have only been injured because of another party’s negligence. 

For res ipsa loquitur to apply, the victim must prove the following elements:

  • The accident would not have happened without someone acting negligently
  • The factors that led to the accident were under the direct and exclusive control of the defendant
  • The victim did nothing to contribute to the cause of the incident or injury
  • The presumed negligence was within the duty of care owed to the victim by the defendant 
  • The evidence in the case rules out that another party could have caused the victim’s injuries

If a victim can prove all of the above elements, the jury can infer negligence, even though there is no direct evidence of negligence. 

Receiving Compensation for Damages

Once the jury infers negligence and holds the defendant liable for the victim’s injuries, the jury can award compensation for damages. Determining damages and assigning a value for those damages is the same in a case involving res ipsa loquitur as it is in a traditional negligence case.

The victim can recover compensation for a variety of financial damages and non-economic damages.

Financial damages may include:

  • Cost of medical care and treatment
  • Loss of wages, benefits, and other income
  • Cost of personal care and in-home health care
  • Travel expenses
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Counseling and emotional therapy

Additionally, the victim is entitled to receive compensation for the “pain and suffering” caused by the accident and injury. Pain and suffering damages are non-economic damages. The jury must assign a value to non-economic damages.

Factors that can increase the value of non-economic damages include:

  • The type and severity of the injuries
  • How long it takes the person to recover
  • Whether the person sustains a disabling condition
  • How the injuries have impacted the person’s quality of life
  • The amount of financial damages incurred because of the accident

In most cases, permanent impairments and catastrophic injuries increase the value of non-economic damages. 

A victim must have evidence and proof of damages. A personal injury lawyer understands how to value pain and suffering damages. The attorney also understands how to document the damages and maximize the chance of recovering full compensation for all damages.