South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Expert Testimony May Be Used to Establish Res Ipsa Loquitur
Description New York high court held that in complex matters, such as medicine, expert testimony could be used to establish res ipsa loquitur, that is, the action involved could not have occurred except for negligence on the part of the defendant.
Topic Torts
Key Words Res Ipsa Loquitur; Expert Testimony
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts States sued her anesthesiologist for injuring her right arm during surgery. She contended that the injury suffered to her arm must have been caused by hyperextension of the arm beyond 90 degrees by the anesthesiologist during surgery when he placed the arm on a board to insert a tube in her arm to keep her sedated during surgery. Defendant moved for summary judgment because there were no witnesses to such hyperextension during surgery. States contended that based on expert medical testimony, such injury could not have occurred except for negligence during her surgery. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment, holding that a jury could rely on expert medical testimony to support the conclusion that an injury would not have occurred in the absence of negligence. The appellate division reversed; plaintiff appealed.

Reversed. “Under appropriate circumstances, the evidentiary doctrine of res ipsa loquitur may be invoked to allow the fact finder to infer negligence from the mere happening of an event. Res ipsa loquitur, a doctrine of ancient origin, derives from the understanding that some events ordinarily do not occur in the absence of negligence. In addition to this first prerequisite, plaintiff must establish, second, that the injury was caused by an agent or instrumentality within the exclusive control of defendant and, third, that no act or negligence on the plaintiff’s part contributed to the happening of the event.” Here, expert testimony is needed to help the jury “bridge the gap” between its common knowledge, which does not include special medical knowledge, and experience necessary to reach a conclusion that the occurrence would not normally occur in the absence of negligence. The jury should be allowed to hear the expert testimony to determine if res ipsa loquitur applies.

Citation States v. Lourdes Hospital, --- N.E.2d --- (2003 WL 21003717, Ct. App., N.Y., 2003)

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