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What is "res ipsa loquitur" in a medical malpractice case?

Despite the amazing recent advancements in the medical field, nothing and no one is foolproof. Doctors, surgeons and other Aurora medical professionals make mistakes, resulting in injuries to their patients. If negligence is at the root of these mistakes, patients may want to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit.

However, proving that a healthcare professional has committed malpractice is difficult. One needs expert witnesses usually to provide testimony. Even then though, it can be difficult to show that a medical professional committed malpractice when it is the defendant that created the medical report that provides the grounds for the lawsuit.

Luckily, the law acknowledges this difficulty, and if a malpractice victim cannot pinpoint the cause of the injury, the doctrine of "res ipsa loquitur" may be used. Res ipsa loquitur can be translated to "the thing speaks for itself."

Through this doctrine, it is implied that the patient only needs to show that his or her injury occurred, and that the injury would not have occured unless the medical professional was negligent. To utilize res ipsa loquitur, the patient must demonstrate that he or she cannot obtain evidence demonstrating what the actual cause of his or her injury is, that the injury usually does not occur unless there is negligence, the patient did not cause the injury, the medical professional had exclusive control over the instrumentality that lead the patient to be injured and no other instrumentality could have caused the injury.

If the patient's res ipsa loquitur argument is successful, the burden shifts to the medical professional to prove that he or she did not commit an act of negligence. But, res ipsa loquitur is a complex argument. Therefore, if a patient wants to invoke it in his or her medical malpractice lawsuit, he or she may want to make sure to first secure an attorney, who can determine whether that is an appropriate argument.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Proving Fault in Medical Malpractice Cases," accessed on Jan. 8, 2017

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