Res ipsa loquitur is applied in negligence actions as a permissible inference that literally means "the thing speaks for itself." Res ipsa loquitur is merely a short way of saying that the circumstances attendant upon an accident are themselves of such a character as to justify a court or jury in inferring negligence as the cause of that accident. The doctrine allows a plaintiff the opportunity to establish a prima facie case when he could not otherwise satisfy the traditional requirements for proof of negligence. The jury is thereby permitted, but not compelled, to infer a defendant's negligence without the aid of any direct evidence. Even when the doctrine applies, however, the burden of proving the defendant's negligence remains upon the plaintiff.
An elevator passenger was injured when he stepped onto an elevator that was not level with the floor. The elevator passenger filed a negligence action against the elevator manufacturer, building owner, and building manager. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the elevator manufacturer, building owner, and building manager. The court of special appeals reversed as to the elevator manager.
Was the trial court's refusal to give a res ipsa loquitur jury instruction proper?
The Court reinstated the ruling of the trial court. The court found that the trial court committed no error in refusing to give a requested instruction on res ipsa loquitur because that doctrine did not apply. The elevator passenger offered direct evidence that purported to render an explanation of the cause of the elevator's misleveling. In addition, because of the complex and technical nature of the probable cause of the accident, expert testimony was used in order to support an inference of negligence. Thus, the jury was not asked to draw any inferences from circumstantial evidence presented, and the elevator passenger was precluded from relying on res ipsa loquitur.