Providing Legal Services For More Than 125 Years

The Centuries-Old Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur is Still Used Today To Establish Negligence

On Behalf of | Feb 7, 2014 | Personal Injury

The centuries-old doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, meaning “the thing speaks for itself” is still a rule of law applied in courtrooms across the State of New Hampshire and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. When the doctrine is applicable in a case, proof of circumstances attending an accident is by itself sufficient to justify a verdict and a finding of negligence by a jury or a judge. For the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to apply, it is necessary that:

  • the accident be a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone’s negligence;
  • must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; and
  • other responsible causes are sufficiently eliminated by the evidence.
  • The following scenario highlights this doctrine. A defendant loads a ladder in the back of her pickup truck and claims she secures the ladder to prevent it from coming lose. While driving on the highway, the ladder falls out of the pickup truck and onto the highway causing a multi-car accident and injuries. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur would assist the injury victims in establishing the defendant’s liability as:

  • the ladder would not ordinarily have come lose and fallen off the pickup truck absent the negligence in the defendant loading and securing the ladder to her pickup truck;
  • the defendant was in exclusive control of the ladder and the pickup truck at the time of the accident; and
  • all other responsible causes are eliminated by the facts of the case.
  • As the injury victim was not present when the defendant loaded the ladder in her pickup truck, this doctrine allows the injury victim to establish negligence by the inference that the ladder would not have come lose but for the defendant’s own negligence.

    If you have any questions whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur would be available in your car accident, slip and fall, or other negligence case, please contact an attorney at Hamblett & Kerrigan.


    Kevin P. Rauseo is a former director at Hamblett & Kerrigan P.A. and has since been appointed as a Justice for the New Hampshire Circuit Court.  Please feel free to contact another attorney at Hamblett & Kerrigan to discuss your legal issues.