Utah Affirmative Defense: Res Ipsa Loquitur
Res Ipsa Loquitur
Th[e] foundation [for res ipsa loquitur] is usually established by proving the following three elements:
- the accident was of a kind which, in the ordinary course of events, would not have happened had the defendant used due care;
- the agency or instrumentality causing the accident was at the time of the accident under the exclusive management or control of the defendant; and
- the plaintiff’s own use or operation of the agency or instrumentality was not primarily
responsible for the accident.
- In Walker, the court defined the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. It stated:
- In Utah, res ipsa loquitur is an evidentiary rule that allows an inference of negligence to be drawn when human experience provides a reasonable basis for concluding that an injury probably would not have happened if due care had been exercised. To employ the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, plaintiffs initially must establish a foundation from which an inference of negligence can be drawn. Put another way, before a plaintiff is entitled to a jury instruction on res ipsa loquitur, the plaintiff must have presented evidence that the occurrence of the incident is more probably than not caused by negligence.
Id. at 1160, (citations and quotations omitted).
- There are two ways a plaintiff can establish this foundation. The Utah Supreme Court has stated:
- The probability that an occurrence was produced by negligence may be established by reference to the common experiences of the community. When, however, the probabilities of a situation are outside the realm of common knowledge, expert evidence may be used to establish the necessary foundational probabilities.
- The court in Walker, after quoting this language, continued:
- Thus, because an instruction on res ipsa loquitur allows a jury to infer negligence from the type of accident itself, “‘there must be a basis either in common knowledge or expert testimony that when such an accident occurs, it is more probably than not the result of negligence.’”
“Res ipsa loquitur is a rule of evidence which allows a party, in certain circumstances, to raise an inference that another party has acted negligently notwithstanding a lack of evidence concerning the other party’s actions.” Kitchen v. Cal Gas Company, Inc., 821 P.2d 458, 463 (Utah Ct. App. 1991) (emphasis added).
However, before a party is entitled to proceed on a res ipsa loquitur theory, the party must satisfy a preliminary evidentiary foundation demonstrating that the facts of the case properly present a res ipsa loquitur question. . . . This foundation consists of three parts:
“(1) . . . [T]he accident was of a kind which in the ordinary course of events, would not have happened had the defendant used due care,
(2) the instrument or thing causing the injury was at the time of the accident under the management and control of the defendant, and
(3) the accident happened irrespective of any participation at the time by the plaintiff.”
Id. at 463-64 (citations omitted, last alteration added).
- The Kitchens Court held that the plaintiffs in that case could not rely on this doctrine because the first two prongs failed. The court, citing the Utah Supreme Court, stated:
- “Before a plaintiff is entitled to a jury instruction on res ipsa loquitur, the plaintiff must have presented evidence that the occurrence of the incident “more probably than not was caused by negligence.” The plaintiff need not eliminate all possible inferences of non-negligence, but the balance of probabilities must weigh in favor of negligence, or res ipsa loquitur does not apply.”