Res Ipsa Loquitur

Date: June 20, 2009

Mrs. Smith, a quadriplegic, fell from an examining room table in her physician\’s office while left unattended. As a result of the fall, Mrs. Smith sustained multiple injuries, which caused her untimely death. She was the only one present in the examining room at the time of the fall.

Mrs. Smith\’s family filed a lawsuit claiming that that her physician and his nurse negligently provided medical care to Mrs. Smith by failing to properly position her on the examining table and failing to use side rails or other restraints as well as failing to monitor her so as to prevent the fall.

Issue: Will Mrs. Smith\’s family need a medical expert in order to prove her case?

Answer: No. In the law, there is a doctrine called res ipsa loquitur. Literally translated, it means “the thing speaks for itself.” It applies to situations such as this where the event is of such a kind which does not ordinarily occur in the absence of negligence. If other reasonable potential causes, including the conduct of the decedent, are eliminated and the defendants did have a duty owed to the plaintiff, then the doctrine applies.

In this case, all three elements clearly applied. The quadriplegic patient could not have fallen off the examination table in the absence of negligence. No explanation could be offered for the decedent\’s fall beyond the defendant\’s negligence and, finally, clearly the defendants had a duty to protect the decedent from this sort of accident from happening.

The only fact question left to a jury would be whether or not the fall did cause the decedent\’s death and what the amount of damages should be.

Disclaimer: The above article is for instructive purposes only and each case is fact sensitive. Consultation with an attorney should be obtained instead of reliance upon the legal issues discussed in this column.

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.