Sometimes injuries are caused by negligence that was so obvious that not even a lawyer can argue against it. In the law, there is a term for this: Res ipsa loquitur. The phrase is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.” There are several elements for a res ipsa loquitur claim to work in court:
- The injury was caused by someone's action that was so out of the ordinary that it would not occur without pure negligence,
- The negligent person was completely in control of the situation that resulted in the injury, and
- The injured person played no part in causing the injury.
If these elements are met, then res ipsa loquitur ends the question of whether the person was liable for your injury. The only question remaining is how much they will have to compensate you.
Res ipsa loquitur wins are very, very rare, especially in medical malpractice cases. The times where a defendant was so negligent that there is literally nothing that can be said in their defense are few and far between. In the medical malpractice context, there are so many people involved in even a routine procedure that it can be difficult to show that the negligent person was in complete control of the situation that led to an injury.
However, this was exactly how a recent medical malpractice case in New York ended.
The case, Crispin v. Hostin, involved a patient, Ms. Crispin, whose right knee had a torn meniscus and a partially torn ACL. She went to Dr. Hostin for surgery. On the morning of the surgery, Dr. Hostin initialed her ailing right knee, and then went to perform a surgery on another patient. When Dr. Hostin finished and came back to Ms. Crispin, he noticed that his physician's assistant (PA) had already started the surgery. In the live video of the surgery, Dr. Hostin saw a torn meniscus, and figured he would direct his PA to complete the procedure.
Unfortunately, Dr. Hostin did not realize until after the surgery was done that the PA had been working on Ms. Crispin's left knee instead of the right one, despite the doctor's initials there.
Ms. Crispin's lawyers filed for summary judgment, arguing that this was a case of res ipsa loquitur, and that there was not even a need for a trial and a jury to figure it out. The judge agreed, and the case proceeded straight to the question of how much Dr. Hostin owed for his negligence, saving Ms. Crispin the emotional toll and the expenses of fighting through a medical malpractice trial.
Res ipsa loquitur cases are rare. The obviousness of the negligence has to be absolutely staggering for a judge to say there is no way for the defendant to say he or she was not negligent and the cause of your injury. However, Crispin v. Hostin shows that it can happen, even in medical malpractice cases.
If you or a loved one have been injured by a doctor's mistake, contact the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian for a free consultation.