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What does Res Ipsa Loquitur mean in a RI Personal injury Cases?

In nearly all Rhode Island Personal Injury cases, the Plaintiff is required to establish that the defendant was negligent and that negligence caused the injury of Plaintiff. Sometimes it is impossible to prove that the defendant was negligent. Res Ipsa Loquitur is a legal doctrine upheld in Rhode Island Courts which allows the Jury to infer negligence even though the negligence has not been dirctly proven. Res Ipsa Loquitur means ” the thing speaks for itself”.

In the Case of ERRICO v. LaMOUNTAIN the Rhode Island Supreme Court carefully explained the doctrine of “Res Ipsa Loquitur”:

Res ipsa loquitur is not a rule of either procedural or substantive tort law but is rather a form of circumstantial evidence.   See Konicki v. Lawrence, 475 A.2d 208, 210 (R.I.1984).   Where applicable, the doctrine “establishes inferential evidence of a defendant’s negligence, thus making out a prima facie case for a plaintiff, and casts upon a defendant the burden of rebutting the same to the satisfaction of the jury.  * * *  [T]he burden of proof remains on the plaintiff, but the defendant has the burden of going forward with the evidence.”  Marshall v. Tomaselli, 118 R.I. 190, 197 n. 3, 372 A.2d 1280, 1284 n. 3 (1977).

In Parrillo v. Giroux Co., 426 A.2d 1313, 1320 (R.I.1981), this Court explicitly adopted the approach taken by the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 328(D), at 156 (1965) for determining when this circumstantial-proof-of-negligence doctrine may be employed.   Section 328(D) provides:

“(1) It may be inferred that harm suffered by the plaintiff is caused by negligence of the defendant when

(a) the event is of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence;

(b) other responsible causes, including the conduct of the plaintiff and third persons, are sufficiently eliminated by the evidence;  and

(c) the indicated negligence is within the scope of the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff.

“(2) It is the function of the court to determine whether the inference may reasonably be drawn by the jury, or whether it must necessarily be drawn.

“(3) It is the function of the jury to determine whether the inference is to be drawn in any case where different conclusions may reasonably be reached.”

This approach disavows an earlier requirement of first having to establish a defendant’s exclusive control of the premises for the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to apply, thus parting company with Rhode Island’s former rule that a plaintiff had to demonstrate that the defendant at the time of the accident exclusively controlled the instrumentality of the plaintiff’s injury.   Parrillo, 426 A.2d at 1320;  see also Marshall, 118 R.I. at 197-98, 372 A.2d at 1284 (stating former Rhode Island rule).   But after Parrillo a plaintiff need not eliminate all other possible causes of the accident for the doctrine to apply.  “All that is required is that the plaintiff produce sufficient evidence from which a reasonable [person] could say that, on the whole, it was more likely than not that there was negligence on the part of the defendant.”  Parrillo, 426 A.2d at 1319.

Legal Notice per Rules of Professional Responsibility: The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers and attorneys in the general practice of law, but does not license or certify any lawyer / attorney as an expert or specialist in any field of practice. While this firm maintains joint responsibility, most cases of this type are referred to other attorneys for principle responsibility.

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