Res Ipsa Loquitur: When Medical Negligence Is Clearly Obvious

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California medical malpractice attorneysThe study and practice of medicine is infinitely complex, as science has yet to fully understand all of the intricacies of the human body. As result, proving medical negligence is often just as complicated with countless variables, details, and other factors to be taken into account. Sometimes, however, a medical professional will make a mistake that is so egregious and obvious that there is virtually no doubt regarding what caused the patient’s injuries. In such cases, liability may be established using the legal doctrine of “res ipsa loquitur,” but damages must still be determined.

What Does Res Ipsa Loquitur Mean?

“Res ipsa loquitur” is a Latin phrase that translates to “the thing speaks for itself.” The term—sometimes shortened to just “res ipsa”—is commonly used in the practice of law to refer to a presumption of negligence in situations where the accident or actions that caused the injury would not or could not have occurred without some sort of negligence. For example, if a dead mouse is found by a consumer in an unopened bottle of soda, res ipsa presumes that negligence must have occurred during packaging because there is no other explanation for why a mouse would be inside a soda bottle.

Due to the complexity of the medical field, res ipsa loquitur is not a recognized doctrine in medical malpractice litigation in some states. The rationale is that medicine, for the most part, is not well understood by the average person. In California, res ipsa is recognized, but its use is limited to very specific situations. To prove liability using res ipsa loquitur, the claimant must show that:

  • The harm he or she suffered would not have occurred unless a party or parties were negligent;
  • The injury occurred while he or she was under the defendant’s care or control; and
  • The victim’s own voluntary actions did not contribute to his or her injuries.

A common medical malpractice example of res ipsa loquitur is the discovery of surgical items left in a patient’s body following a surgical procedure. The only explanation for such a situation is that the surgeon or staff was negligent.

Liability Is Only Part of the Equation

In most cases where res ipsa loquitur is used, determining liability is relatively easy, but the case is far from complete. Res ipsa does very little to assist with figuring out the amount of damages to be awarded. A medical malpractice victim may be able to collect compensation for the costs of medical care to treat his or her injuries, lost wages, and other calculable damages. He or she may also seek non-economic damages for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium, but California law limits non-economic damage awards to a maximum of $250,000.

We Can Help

If you or a loved one has been injured by a clear example of medical malpractice, there is still a great deal of work to be done in getting you the compensation you need to put your life back together. Contact an experienced San Jose medical malpractice attorney to discuss your options. Call 408-289-1417 for a free consultation at Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. today.




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