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.
In Virginia, courts have held that the res ipsa loquitor doctrine is “limited,” but may be applicable is a plaintiff can establish:
- The instrumentality causing the plaintiff’s injuries was in the exclusive control of the defendant;
- The accident was of such a nature that it would not have happened had due care been exercised; and
- Evidence of the cause of the accident would have been accessible to the defendant, but not the plaintiff.
The Facts of the Case
In the case referenced above, a plaintiff was allegedly injured as the doors to the elevator she was exiting closed on her. The plaintiff filed a claim against the condo association where the accident occurred.
In support of her claim, the plaintiff presented an expert witness who testified that the malfunction was likely caused because the elevator’s safety features were not working correctly. The defendant presented conflicting evidence, suggesting the elevator was adequately maintained.
The court allowed the plaintiff’s case to proceed under the res ipsa loquitor doctrine. The court explained that elevator doors do not ordinarily close on occupants as they exit the elevator and, given the fact that the elevator was in the sole control of the defendant, the plaintiff was not required to disprove all other possible causes of the malfunction. Thus, the unique facts of the accident, coupled with the plaintiff’s expert testimony was sufficient to allow a jury to make the inference that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any type of Virginia slip-and-fall or premises liability accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Attorney Sidney Schupak is a preeminent Virginia personal injury lawyer with decades of experience handling a variety of challenging and complex cases. To learn more about how Attorney Schupak can help you obtain compensation for the injuries you have sustained, call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation today.
See More Blog Posts:
Virginia’s “One Bite” Rule Makes Recovering After an Animal Attack Difficult, But Not Impossible, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, November 13, 2018.
Court Discusses Employer Liability in Recent Distracted Driving Case, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, October 18, 2018.