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Medical malpractice: what is “res ipsa loquitur?”


Doctors and other medical professionals are not superhuman. It’s unreasonable to think that they can fix every problem and never make a mistake. They are also asked to perform tough surgeries and procedures that don’t come with 100 percent success rates, even when they’re done correctly. So how do you figure out if a doctor simply made an understandable mistake or if they committed an act of negligence that left a victim disabled or dead?

It all hinges on a “standard of care.” Did the doctor or surgeon exercise due diligence, perform with a reasonable level of proficiency and maintain the professionalism that’s expected of them? Deciding a reasonable standard of care is the hard part. Proving that the standard of care was violated is even harder. Thankfully, the courts understand this and allow plaintiffs some leeway under a doctrine called “res ipsa loquitur.”

“Res ipsa loquitur,” which translates to “the thing speaks for itself,” means that the victim only has to prove that something happened that otherwise would not have if not for the negligence of the medical professional or hospital. To do this, they must:

  • Show that obtaining evidence is impossible.
  • Demonstrate that the injury normally doesn’t occur unless there is negligence.
  • Show that they were not responsible for the injury.
  • Establish that the medical professional was the only one with control over what caused the injury.

Once the plaintiff has satisfied this fairly broad requirement, it becomes incumbent on the defendant to prove.

If you feel you’ve been injured by the negligence of a hospital or doctor, you may want to bring your case to an attorney.