What is the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur?

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

Patients who are treated in New York hospitals may wonder about how to approach possible medical malpractice situations, especially in cases involving difficulty in establishing wrongdoing on the part of a medical professional or health care provider. Proving wrongdoing can be challenging in some cases because of the medical issues involved. Medical reports are typically created by the very individuals who might be sued in a medical malpractice case. The details recorded may leave room for doubt about whether malpractice has occurred as a report protects a potentially guilty individual. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur may be appropriate if clear proof of medical malpractice is not available.

The Latin phrase means that a situation speaks for itself. When provider or hospital negligence cannot be clearly proven, this doctrine may be helpful for demonstrating that a condition or injury would not have otherwise occurred. Although the cause of a medical injury may not be clear, the involvement of a medical professional in one’s treatment might reasonably be connected to the condition.

Successful use of res ipsa loquitur involves demonstrating certain facts. It must be clear that evidence of the actual cause of an injury cannot be obtained. Additionally, one must be able to demonstrate that the issue would not occur under ordinary circumstances during which negligence was not an issue. It must be shown that an injury is not caused by the patient. Control of the instrumentality leading to the injury must be attributed to the defendant or their agents. Additionally, it must be shown that there is no other explanation for such injury.

In dealing with a specific case that may be tied to medical malpractice, an individual might be concerned that medical records have been slanted in favor of the care providers. A lawyer might assist in evaluating the case in light of res ipsa loquitur to determine whether it is possible to show medical malpractice regardless.

Source: Findlaw, “Medical Malpractice“, December 22, 2014

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