Res Ipsa Loquitor in Washington, D.C.: Inferring Fault from the Fact that an Accident Occurred

In some personal injury cases, negligence may be obvious from the accident itself. In these situations, a plaintiff in a Washington, D.C. injury case may be able to invoke the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor. Res ipsa loquitor is a legal doctrine that applies in negligence cases where negligence is obvious from the occurrence itself. Under Washington, D.C. law, a plaintiff that invokes the doctrine is required to prove, 1.) the occurrence is one that normally does not occur in the absence of negligence; 2.) the occurrence was caused by an agent or instrument that was within the defendant’s control; and 3.) the plaintiff did not cause or contribute to the incident resulting in heir injuries.

Washington, D.C. courts have cautioned against the use of the doctrine. Courts have held that a plaintiff must show that negligence can be inferred based on matters of common knowledge or present an expert to explain that the accident generally did not occur in the absence of negligence. In a recent case, another state’s appeals court considered whether the doctrine absolved the plaintiff of proving that a defendant had notice of a dangerous condition after the plaintiff’s chair broke on a cruise ship.

The plaintiff in the noted case sat on a chair on a Carnival cruise ship and the chair collapsed. After she fell, she saw that a leg had fallen off the chair. At the medical center aboard the ship, they found her arm was not broken and she was given Tylenol, ice, and a sling. After the cruise, the plaintiff discovered that she was suffering from medial epicondylitis and ulnar neurapraxia, or tendinitis, and a nerve injury. The plaintiff filed suit against the cruise line, alleging in part that it had failed to inspect and maintain the cabin furniture. After a court dismissed her case, an appeals court considered whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor applied. The plaintiff argued that even if the cruise line did not have notice of the chair’s dangerous condition, it could still be held liable under the this doctrine.

The court held, however, that the doctrine could not be invoked under these circumstances. The court held that a plaintiff who invokes res ipsa loquitor still must prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. It further held that notice was an “integral part of duty,” requiring a plaintiff also to prove actual or constructive notice. Here, the plaintiff’s evidence showed that the defect was hidden. Therefore, because the plaintiff failed to show that the cruise line had actual or constructive knowledge of the defect, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor did not apply.

Contact a Washington, D.C. Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been injured, have a Washington, D.C. accident lawyer evaluate your potential claim. The skilled personal injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, understand the complex issues that arise in Washington, D.C. personal injury cases. Our team will guide you through each step of the legal process, ranging from the initial investigation through settlement negotiations and litigation. We handle all types of injury cases, including Washington, D.C. slip and fall accidents, car accidents, and more. Call us toll-free at (800) 654-1949 or contact us online to set up a free consultation.

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