If a patient is injured as the result of a medical procedure, but does not know exactly what caused his or her injury, but it is an injury that would not have occurred without negligence by a health care provider, the plaintiff might be able to invoke the legal doctrine known as res ipsa loquitur. This is a Latin phrase which means “the thing speaks for itself,” and implies that the plaintiff needs to show only that a particular result occurred, and it would not have happened but for the defendant’s negligence. A classic example of the type of case in which res ipsa loquitur arises is one in which a medical instrument is left inside a person following surgery. Clearly, an instrument would not be left inside a person in the absence of someone’s negligence.
To successfully invoke res ipsa loquitur, the plaintiff must show that:
- There is no evidence of the actual cause of the injury
- The injury is not the kind that ordinarily occurs in the absence of negligence
- The plaintiff was not responsible for his or her own injury
- The defendant, or its employees or agents, had exclusive control over the instrumentality that caused the injury
- The injury could not have been caused by any instrumentality other than that over which the defendant had control