The Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur in Washington, D.C. Personal Injury Cases

In some Washington, D.C. personal injury cases, there may be a lack of evidence regarding the cause of the accident victim’s injuries. However, in some of these cases, the fact that the accident occurred at all may give rise to an inference that the defendant was in fact negligent. This doctrine is known as res ipsa loquitur, which is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.”

Trailer HitchThe classic example of a res ipsa loquitur case is when a patient finds out there is a medical instrument in their body after undergoing a surgery. In this situation, the patient would have no way of knowing who left the instrument in their body, but the fact that the instrument was present in their body – which would never be there absent some explanation – may be evidence that the doctor was negligent.

In Washington, D.C., there are three elements that must be met in order for a judge to give the jury a res ipsa loquitur instruction. First, the event must be one that does not normally occur in the absence of someone’s negligence. Second, the accident must have involved an instrumentality within the sole control of the defendant. Finally, the plaintiff’s injuries must not have been a result of their own conduct. A recent case illustrates how the court applies a res ipsa loquitur analysis.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was with her husband at a sporting goods store. As the two walked down an aisle, the plaintiff’s husband called out to her about the item they were looking to find. As the plaintiff turned around, she brushed a steel trailer hitch that fell from the shelf and grazed her wrist on the way to the ground. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries and was unable to return to work for four years.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the sporting goods store and asked that the court instruct the jury on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. The plaintiff claimed that the trailer hitch was under the store’s control, and the only evidence of negligence available was the fact that the hitch fell. However, the court noted that the trailer hitch was not solely in the store’s control, since any customer could have relocated the hitch. Additionally, the court noted that the plaintiff brushed up against the hitch, which may have been the cause of the hitch falling. As a result, the lower court’s decision not to instruct the jury on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was upheld.

Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Washington, D.C. accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Depending on the specific facts of the accident causing your injuries, there may be several potential theories of liability and potentially multiple liable parties. The dedicated Washington, D.C. premises liability attorneys at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have extensive experience representing victims and their families in all types of injury cases. To learn more, and to schedule your free consultation, call 410-654-3600 today.

More Blog Posts:

Product Liability Plaintiff’s Case Dismissed Based on Unreliable Expert Testimony, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, January 16, 2018

Court Rejects Insurance Company’s Denial of Golf Cart Injury Claim, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, February 2, 2018

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