Tort Law

Res Ipsa Loquitur Cases

Fairfax Injury Lawyer Brien Roche Summarizes Res Ipsa Loquitur Cases

Brien Roche

This page within Virginia Tort Case Law is a compilation of cases reported by the Virginia Supreme Court and summarized by Brien Roche dealing with the topic of Res Ipsa Loquitur. For more information on res ipsa loquitur see the pages on Wikipedia. 

Res Ipsa Loquitur-Cases

1996 Lewis v. Carpenter Co., 252 Va. 296, 477 S.E.2d 492.

Motor vehicle accident where defendant’s trailer came unhooked from tractor. Plaintiff saw this happen and in panic pulled to the left resulting in striking fixed object. There was no contact between plaintiff and trailer. At trial, defendant’s driver called as witness who gave uncontradicted testimony establishing no fault on his part as to hookup of trailer. Plaintiff offered no alternative theory as to what caused trailer to become separated. In Virginia, doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, if not entirely abolished, has been limited and restricted to great extent. For doctrine to apply, instrumentality causing damage must be in exclusive possession or under exclusive management of defendant, accident must be of such nature and character as does not ordinarily occur if due care is used, and evidence regarding cause of incident is accessible to defendant and not accessible to injured party. Those elements are not established here.

1994 Cooper v. Horn, 248 Va. 417, 448 S.E.2d 403.

Earthen dam broke causing damage to property owners downstream. Res ipsa instruction was improperly given. This doctrine rests upon assumption that thing that causes injury is under exclusive management of defendant, and evidence of true cause of accident is accessible to defendant and not accessible to injured party. In addition in this instance, flood water was one of instrumentalities causing damage and that was not within exclusive control of defendant.

1984 Cooper v. Whiting Oil Co., 226 Va. 491, 311 S.E.2d 757.

Case involved alleged negligence on the part of oil company due to leak from gasoline storage tank. Presumption is not applicable if object that causes damages is not under exclusive control of defendant. In this case tank was not under exclusive control of defendant.

1975 Logan v. Montgomery Ward, 216 Va. 425, 219 S.E.2d 685.

Res ipsa loquitur is evidential presumption sometimes resorted to in absence of evidence but it is not to be applied when evidence is available. It is not applicable in case of unexplained accident which may be attributable to one of several causes for some of which defendant is not responsible.

1967 Easterling v. Walton, 208 Va. 214, 156 S.E.2d 787.

Doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is evidential presumption not to be used to overcome evidence, but to be applied in its absence. Doctrine applies in negligence cases where: (1) instrument in exclusive possession of defendant; (2) defendant has exclusive knowledge of how instrument used; (3) injury would not ordinarily occur with proper care. Res ipsa loquitur means that facts warrant, but not compel inference of negligence.

1962 Stein v. Powell, 203 Va. 423, 124 S.E.2d 889.

Elements: (1) instrument in exclusive control of defendant; (2) accident not occur in absence of negligence on part of defendant; (3) evidence of causation accessible to defendant and not to plaintiff.

1961 Gilmer v. Southern Ry., 202 Va. 826, 120 S.E.2d 294.

Case states some general principles. (1) Doctrine is merely rule of evidence and not rule of pleading. (2) Doctrine creates inference or presumption of negligence which may not be disregarded by jury. (3) Doctrine applies only when cause of accident is not explained. (4) Doctrine assumes that instrument is within exclusive control of defendant and that accident is such as in ordinary course of events does not happen without fault on part of defendant. (5) Doctrine does not apply when accident may have been due to several causes some of which defendant is not responsible for.

1957 Smith v. Tatum, 199 Va. 85, 97 S.E.2d 820.

Defendant was student driver in car where decedent was licensed driver. Automobile not in exclusive control of defendant.

1950 Virginia Transit Co. v. Durham, 190 Va. 979, 59 S.E.2d 58.

Where res ipsa loquitur applies, to escape liability defendant must present evidence to prove that accident was not caused by its negligence. If defendant established conclusively that there is no negligence, then question of liability is for court. This doctrine simply creates presumption of negligence. Ultimate burden of proving negligence still rests with plaintiff. In final weighing of evidence defendant does not have to prove itself free of negligence to justify defense verdict.

1950 Beer Distribs., Inc. v. Winfree, 190 Va. 521, 57 S.E.2d 902.

Mere happening of accident does not warrant application of doctrine. It is applied only where accident is such that in ordinary course of events accident could not have happened without negligence. Doctrine is never applicable in case of unexplained accident that may have been attributable to one of two causes, for one of which defendant is not responsible.

1949 Watt v. Richmond, F. & P.R.R., 189 Va. 258, 52 S.E.2d 129.

Mere fact that res ipsa loquitur applies does not mean burden of proof is shifted to defendant. It is still incumbent on plaintiff to prove facts from which inference of defendant’s negligence may reasonably be drawn.

1947 Danville Community Hosp. v. Thompson, 186 Va. 746, 43 S.E.2d 882.

Requirements: (1) instrumentality in exclusive control of defendant; (2) defendant has or should have exclusive knowledge of the way that instrumentality was used, and (3) injury would not normally have occurred if instrument had been properly used. Doctrine applies in instances where plaintiff is powerless to determine cause. Plaintiff is not required to exclude every possibility that injury might have been caused through some means for which defendant is not responsible.

1945 Stephens v. VEPCO, 184 Va. 94, 34 S.E.2d 374.

Presumption of negligence in res ipsa loquitur is entirely overcome where properly refuted by sufficient evidence. First essential for application of doctrine is that cause of accident is unknown. Here, defendant established that there was nothing it could have done to avoid accident. Verdict for defendant.

1944 Bly v. Southern Ry., 183 Va. 162, 31 S.E.2d 564.

Res ipsa loquitur has no application in case where there is evidence tending to show negligence.

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Miscellaneous

1997 Dickerson v. Fatehi, 253 Va. 324, 484 S.E.2d 880.

Surgeon left needle in neck of patient after performing disc operation. These facts plus defendant’s response to request for admission was sufficient to eliminate need for expert testimony. Record in this case was insufficient to establish applicability of res ipsa loquitur.

1975 Surface v. Johnson, 215 Va. 777, 214 S.E.2d 152.

Airplane crash. Doctrine of res ipsa loquitur not applicable. It is matter of common knowledge that aircraft may fall or crash in absence of negligence or fault on part of its pilot.

1967 Easterling v. Walton, 208 Va. 214, 156 S.E.2d 787.

Res ipsa loquitur not applicable in certain malpractice cases because bad result affords no presumption of negligence. Where physician fails to remove foreign object (sponge) from patient, this bad result will create inference of negligence.

1966 Norfolk & W. Ry. v. Anderson, 207 Va. 567, 151 S.E.2d 628.

Plaintiff’s tomato crop allegedly destroyed by chemical poison sprayed by defendant to kill brush. Defendant claimed damage caused by blight and not by spray. Where, as here, instrumentality which caused injury is itself primary question at issue, then doctrine of res ipsa loquitur does not apply.

1966 Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. v. Yeatts, 207 Va. 534, 151 S.E.2d 400.

Exploding bottle case. Negligence not shown. Res ipsa loquitur does not apply in case of unexplained accident that may have been attributable to one of several causes, for some of which defendant is not responsible.

1964 Blacka v. James, 205 Va. 646, 139 S.E.2d 47.

Decedent drowned in commercial swimming area. Res ipsa loquitur not applicable.

1962 Stein v. Powell, 203 Va. 423, 124 S.E.2d 889.

Child ran into dressing room and mirror fell on him. Res ipsa loquitur not applicable. Other customers had access to dressing room, therefore not under exclusive control of defendant.

1961 Gilmer v. Southern Ry., 202 Va. 826, 120 S.E.2d 294.

Defendant parked its truck on its lot on slight grade. Truck was left in gear with parking brake on. Lot was not fenced. It was held that vehicle was not in exclusive control of defendant. Vehicle rolled back and damaged plaintiff’s property. Res ipsa loquitur not applicable.

1961 Jones v. Bush, 202 Va. 752, 120 S.E.2d 382.

Doctrine presupposes that instrumentality was under exclusive control of defendant. Plaintiff service station operator was inflating tire on defendant’s vehicle and therefore not under exclusive control of defendant.

1961 Clouthier v. Virginia Gas Distrib. Co., 202 Va. 646, 119 S.E.2d 234.

Gas explosion within residence. Res ipsa loquitur was not applicable since instrumentalities were not in exclusive control of defendant.

1951 Andrews v. Appalachian Elec. Power Co., 192 Va. 150, 63 S.E.2d 750.

Proof that injury resulted from contact with highly charged wire that is under exclusive operation and control of defendant and is out of its proper place raises prima facie presumption that defendant negligent.

1950 Rice v. Turner, 191 Va. 601, 62 S.E.2d 24.

Plaintiff struck defendant’s cow on highway at night. Final judgment entered for defendants. Fact that animal was on highway unattended does not make out prima facie case of negligence, that is, res ipsa loquitur did not apply. Moreover, statute prohibiting owner from permitting certain animals to run at large beyond limits of his own lands, implies knowledge, consent, or willingness on part of owner.

1950 Virginia Transit Co. v. Durham, 190 Va. 979, 59 S.E.2d 58.

Plaintiff may rely on res ipsa loquitur where it is shown that motor vehicle in exclusive control of defendant was involved in accident of such nature as does not ordinarily occur if due care is used. In this case, bus left roadway and struck plaintiff on sidewalk.

1949 Edwards v. Hobson, 189 Va. 949, 55 S.E.2d 857.

Res ipsa loquitur does not create right of action unless proximate cause established.

1949 Watts v. Richmond, F.R.R., 189 Va. 258, 52 S.E.2d 129.

Plaintiff fell through open door on train. Although door may have been opened by passenger, res ipsa loquitur still applied.

1947 Danville Community Hosp. v. Thompson, 186 Va. 746, 43 S.E.2d 882.

Res ipsa loquitur is applicable where baby was in sole possession of defendant’s employees, and it was their duty to exercise reasonable care. Defendant presented no evidence as to how accident happened.

1947 Vaughn & Spears v. Huff, 186 Va. 144, 41 S.E.2d 482.

Plaintiff was found lying on side of road apparently struck by automobile. There was no showing of how or why accident happened. Res ipsa loquitur is not applicable.

1943 Seven-Up Bottling Co. v. Gretes, 182 Va. 138, 27 S.E.2d 925.

In Virginia, res ipsa loquitur, if not entirely abolished, has been very severely limited. It is evidential presumption resorted to only in absence of evidence. It is not applicable in case of unexplained accident that may be attributable to one of several causes, for some of which defendant is not responsible.

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Res Ipsa Loquitur Cases

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