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The Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur and How It Can Help Some Personal Injury Plaintiffs in Florida

In most personal injury cases, the injured party has some idea how they received their injuries and who was responsible. However, in some situations, there is little to no evidence of how an injury was caused. In this situation, courts may apply the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to create a presumption that the defendant was negligent.

Wooden StairsOf course, courts cannot apply the res ipsa loquitur doctrine to every case in which there is insufficient evidence to prove what happened. In order for the doctrine to apply, certain elements must be met:

  • The accident must be a type that would not normally occur without some act of negligence; and
  • The instrumentality or condition that caused the accident must have been in the sole control of the defendant.

The classic example of a res ipsa loquitur case is when a plaintiff who recently underwent surgery later finds out that there is a sponge in their body. In such a case, the plaintiff would have no idea how the sponge got inside them because they were unconscious during the surgery. However, since there is really no other explanation for how the sponge got inside the plaintiff, a court may determine that res ipsa loquitur applies and that the defendant should be presumed to have left it inside the plaintiff during the surgery.

Not all accidents, however, will result in the application of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine. A recent case illustrates one example in which a plaintiff failed to meet the required showing.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff lived with the defendant in the defendant’s home. One day when the plaintiff was returning home, she fell through a wooden staircase, landing on the ground and injuring herself as a result. The plaintiff later filed a premises liability lawsuit against the defendant.

The plaintiff testified that nothing appeared visually wrong with the staircase, and she had used the staircase earlier in the day without any problem. However, she claimed that the wooden stairs were rotted away due to an insect infestation, and the defendant should have been aware of this fact and warned her.

The plaintiff had no photographs of the staircase and no evidence suggesting that the defendant knew about the dangerous condition of the staircase. However, she attempted to prove her case by asking the court to presume the defendant was negligent under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

The court, however, refused to apply the doctrine under these facts. The court explained that in order for the doctrine to apply, a plaintiff must provide competent evidence that there is a causal connection between the defendant’s alleged negligence and the plaintiff’s injury. Here, the court explained that no evidence was provided; all the plaintiff presented was her own assumption that the staircase had rotted due to an insect infestation. Without some additional proof, the court was unwilling to apply the doctrine.

Have You Been Injured in a South Florida Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a South Florida slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. All land owners and business owners have a duty to those whom they invite onto their property to make sure that the common area is safe and free of hazards. When this duty is violated, the landowner or business owner may be held liable for any resulting injuries. To learn more about South Florida premises liability lawsuits, and to speak with an attorney about your case, call 954-431-8100 to schedule a free consultation today.

Related Blog Posts:

Summary Judgment in South Florida Premises Liability Cases, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, May 10, 2017.

Court Discusses “Public Duty” Doctrine in Recent Dog Bite Case, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, June 5, 2017.

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