Medical Malpractice

Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur

Proving a medical negligence claim can be difficult, which is why it’s important to partner with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. By working with a lawyer, you have someone who will vigorously investigate your case. They’ll uncover all the evidence available to prove you were the victim of negligent medical care. But even when your law firm has all the possible evidence, it might lack direct proof of negligence. In these circumstances, your legal team might focus on proving your medical malpractice case based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, or implied negligence.

To learn more about winning medical malpractice compensation based on implied negligence, call Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. at (312) 236-2900. You also can use our online form to request your free, confidential consultation.

The Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur

Res ipsa loquitur is a Latin phrase that means “the thing itself speaks.” The purpose of the doctrine is to give a plaintiff the ability to prove someone was negligent even when there isn’t direct proof of the negligent act and causation of injuries. Instead, this legal rule lets you use circumstantial evidence to establish a defendant must have been negligent for you to have been hurt.

The Difference Between Negligence and Implied Negligence

In most negligence-based cases, including medical malpractice, you try to provide as much direct proof as possible. You want to prove to the jury that the doctor or other medical practitioner was negligent by showing exactly what they did wrong. You want to show a jury what would have been reasonable and how the medical provider’s conduct wasn’t reasonable under the circumstances.

But in some medical malpractice cases, there isn’t much or any direct evidence to establish the doctor, dentist, pharmacist, or nurse’s specific careless act. In these circumstances, your medical malpractice attorney will focus on gathering circumstantial evidence. Many people assume circumstantial evidence is inherently weaker than direct evidence, but this isn’t necessarily true. It’s just a different type of evidence, and it’s widely used in all types of civil and criminal cases.

With enough circumstantial evidence, you can ask the jury to infer what happened to cause your injuries. To do this, you need enough circumstantial evidence to prove you were under the medical provider or institution’s care, and it’s more likely than not that they were negligent and caused you harm.

The Elements of Implied Negligence

To prove a medical malpractice case based on res ipsa loquitur, you must establish:

  • You were injured;
  • The injury you suffered doesn’t ordinarily happen without negligence; and
  • The cause of the injury was within the special knowledge or under the control of the defendant.

You also may need to provide proof that you didn’t cause your injuries. For example, if you were a patient at a hospital, and got hurt, you might have to prove that you didn’t get up and walk around without supervision or assistance when you were supposed to be resting.

The Judge Decides if You Can Use Res Ipsa Loquitur

When we file a medical malpractice lawsuit, we will specify that we are going to rely on res ipsa loquitur to establish our case. Under Illinois law, it’s then up to the judge to decide whether the doctrine applies to your case or not. The judge has to consider whether, based on common knowledge or expert testimony, your injury wouldn’t have normally happened without the defendant’s negligence. Offering the court proof that you experienced an unusual, unexpected, or untoward medical result that doesn’t usually happen to patients is enough for the doctrine to apply.

If the judge decides res ipsa loquitur applies to your case, then at the end of the trial, the jury will receive instructions telling them to determine whether you established each element of implied negligence by a preponderance of the evidence.

Proving Implied Negligence in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

In some circumstances, your injury and the cause of the injury is so significant that a jury’s common knowledge is enough to infer negligence. For instance, if a surgical instrument or gauze were left in a surgical site and caused a serious infection, a juror would know this was negligence.

But many other cases are more subtle, and jurors will need more information about what was and wasn’t reasonable under the circumstances. To give the jurors more information and context, you’ll have expert witnesses. The medical experts we’ll get for your case depend on who caused you harm. If a specific doctor were at fault, we’d hire an expert that practices or teaches in that same area of medicine. If you were injured by a neurologist, we’d hire an experienced and qualified neurologist to testify. If you believe the hospital or other medical facility was at fault, we’ll hire someone who is experienced in hospital administration.

Defending Against Implied Negligence

A doctor or medical facility has the right to fight back against implied negligence claims. If you can establish each element of implied negligence, then you create a presumption that the defendant was negligent. But the defendant can present evidence that there’s another explanation for what happened to you. The defendant might provide proof that your condition or injury is the result of a known side effect or complication. Or, the defendant might present evidence that the issue that caused your injury was out of their control. You can expect a medical professional or institution to hire experts to testify at trial.

Do You Have Questions About Proving Medical Malpractice?

When you’re the victim of medical malpractice, you might want to pursue compensation from the negligent doctor or hospital. But you might have questions about the best way to do that. You’re going to have to prove the medical provider did something wrong, which can be hard. It’s particularly hard when you were treated by several doctors and nurses at a facility. But you can face this challenge head-on by working with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. We’ll talk with you about attempting to prove your claim based on direct evidence or relying on circumstantial evidence to establish implied negligence.

To learn more about res ipsa loquitur in your medical malpractice case, use our online form or call (312) 236-2900. Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. offers free initial investigations.

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(312) 236-2900
(312) 236-2900