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“Res Ipsa Loquitur” in Syracuse Malpractice Cases

gavelIf you or someone close to you has been injured in what seems like a clear case of medical malpractice, we can help. At DeFrancisco & Falgiatano Personal Injury Lawyers, our experienced Syracuse medical malpractice attorneys can help you seek the compensation you need to put your life back together. We understand that these cases can be daunting, but you can rest assured we will try to make the process as seamless as possible for you.

“Res ipsa loquitur” is Latin for “the thing that speaks for itself.” When a case is tried on the legal theory of res ipsa loquitur, the circumstantial evidence in the case is so convincing that it removes possible causes of the patient’s injury other than the doctor’s negligence. Put another way, in situations in which a specific cause of an injury is unknown, res ipsa loquitur permits negligence to be inferred from the circumstances under which a injury took place, if the injury would not normally occur in the absence of negligence.

The doctrine may be applicable to certain medical malpractice cases, especially cases involving injuries during surgical procedures. For example, if an injury to an anesthetized patient occurs during surgery in an area remote from the operating site, res ipsa loquitur may be appropriate to establish malpractice. In such a scenario, the plaintiff would have to show that the surgeon can be presumed negligent because he or she had exclusive access to the patient’s body at that time, the injury would not have occurred in the absence of negligence, and the plaintiff did not contribute to the injury in any way. It is important to note that to rely on res ipsa loquitur, the plaintiff need not conclusively eliminate the possibility of all other causes of injury.

The New York Court of Appeals handled a case using res ipsa loquitur in 2013. In James v. Wormuth, the defendant performed a lung biopsy on the patient. At some point during the procedure, the guide wire dislodged inside the patient. The doctor tried to search for it but could not find it, at which point he decided to leave it in the body. Several weeks later, the patient experienced pain and underwent a procedure to remove the wire. He then sued the physician under the res ipsa loquitur theory. The trial court granted the defendant’s directed verdict, and the appellate court affirmed, reasoning that the plaintiff’s case failed to establish the elements of res ipsa loquitur. The “foreign object” rule did not apply because the wire was left in the body deliberately as opposed to unintentionally. As a result, there was no inference of negligence. Hence, the plaintiff would have had to call an expert witness to establish negligence, which the plaintiff did not do. The case highlights that even if you file a medical malpractice claim based on res ipsa loquitur, it is still important to thoroughly prepare for your case to make sure every legal element is shown.

Another medical malpractice example of res ipsa loquitur would be the discovery of a surgical item left in a patient’s body following a surgical procedure. In this situation, the only explanation would be that the surgeon or a member of the surgical staff was negligent. Put simply, the jury in this type of case could infer malpractice under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur from the mere occurrence of the event and the defendant’s relation to it.

While res ipsa loquitur cases are rare, they do arise in malpractice cases. If you or someone close to you has been injured due to a medical professional’s negligence, you need to reach out to a skilled Syracuse medical malpractice attorney who can help. At DeFrancisco & Falgiatano Personal Injury Lawyers, we can scrutinize the facts of your case and determine which legal theory would be appropriate. To discuss your legal rights and options with a member of our team, call us at 315-479-9000 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Anesthesia Errors in Syracuse and New York, Syracuse Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, December 27, 2017

Wrongful Death Arising From Malpractice in Syracuse and Across New York, Syracuse Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, December 18, 2017

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