Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing a doctrine of law that is rarely used in Virginia personal injury cases, but it is important nonetheless. The case involves the application of a doctrine called res ipsa loquitor, which can be used to permit a jury to make an inference that a defendant was negligent despite a lack of evidence showing the defendant acted negligently.
The Res Ipsa Loquitor Doctrine
The term res ipsa loquitor is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself,” and refers to a legal doctrine that may apply in cases where there is no direct proof that a defendant was negligent, but that the plaintiff’s injuries are such that they would not likely have resulted absent the defendant’s negligence.
The classic example of the res ipsa loquitor doctrine is the plaintiff who injured after a box falls on him while he is walking alongside a factory. In such a situation, the plaintiff would have no way of knowing where the box came from, who it belonged to, and why it fell. Thus, if the plaintiff filed a claim against the factory, he may be able to proceed under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor because boxes do not ordinarily fall from factory windows.