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Application of res ipsa loquitur in negligence cases

The state of Pennsylvania allows for the application of a concept known as res ipsa loquitur in some civil lawsuits. The term is Latin for "the thing speaks for itself." Plaintiffs may rely on res ipsa loquitur in some cases to establish a presumption of negligence on the part of the defendant.

Sometimes referred to as res ipsa, the doctrine may apply in negligence cases of many types, including premises liability actions. The law varies somewhat from state to state, but plaintiffs typically must establish three things: the occurrence of an event that would not occur in the absence of negligence, a partial or total lack of fault on the part of the plaintiff, and a duty of care on the part of the defendant.

The doctrine arose for use in cases where an injured party lacks direct evidence of the specific circumstances behind the injury. Res ipsa loquitur may allow a judge or jury to use circumstantial evidence to determine whether a defendant was negligent. For example, one of the early res ipsa cases involved a plaintiff who was injured by a barrel of flour that had fallen out of a warehouse window. The attorney for the plaintiff argued that the warehouse must have been negligent because barrels of flour do not simply fall out of warehouse windows in the absence of negligence.

Res ipsa may apply to many different situations and types of cases. Medical negligence, unsafe property and product liability cases, for example, may turn on the application of res ipsa loquitur. Those who have been injured due to the negligence of another may want to consult an attorney to discuss potential avenues of recovery. An attorney may be able to assist before trial by examining evidence, developing a theory of the case and negotiating with defendants. During trial, an attorney may rely on res ipsa loquitur if direct evidence of negligence is unavailable.

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