Recently, an appellate court addressed whether a res ipsa loquitur jury instruction was appropriate in a Florida premises liability case. The case arose when an attorney was visiting her client in an Orange County jail. As she was passing through the security gate, the gate unexpectedly slammed down onto her, causing her to suffer injuries. The plaintiff pursued a lawsuit against the Orange County jail. At trial, she requested the court to provide a res ipsa loquitur instruction to the jury. After losing at trial, the County appealed, requesting a new trial, arguing that the instruction was inappropriate.
Res ipsa loquitur is an evidentiary rule that shifts a plaintiff’s burden of proof to the defendant. The doctrine translates to “the thing speaks for itself”, and applies in cases where a court can infer negligence from the fundamental nature of an accident or injury. Plaintiffs who wish to prove a claim under the doctrine must meet three elements:
- Direct proof of negligence is unavailable;