The plaintiff in a negligence case generally must prove all four elements of negligence. In some rare cases, however, a Washington personal injury defendant may not have to prove the negligence elements based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Res ipsa loquitur is a doctrine that allows plaintiffs to succeed on a negligence claim without proving a specific act of negligence in certain circumstances. The plaintiff must show that the accident that resulted in the injury is a type that does not ordinarily occur absent negligence, that the injury was caused by something within the defendants’ exclusive control, and that the plaintiff did not contribute to the accident.
A plaintiff recently argued res ipsa loquitur applied to his fall from a ladder. A friend asked the plaintiff to help him attach trim to the soffit of an outbuilding on some property he co-owned. The friend had set up two stepladders. The friend held the ladder as the plaintiff ascended it. The plaintiff had not asked him to do so and did not expect him to continue to hold it. The plaintiff stated the ladder felt steady, but the next thing he remembers is being on the ground with blurry vision. He did not know if the ladder broke or just fell. He did not see it after he fell.
The plaintiff sustained a punctured lung, torn spleen, and other injuries. The friend later told the plaintiff he did not know what happened. He turned his back and the next thing he knew, the plaintiff was on the ground.