Super Lawyers
Justia Lawyer Rating for Ronald V. Miller Jr.
Best Law Firms
Avvo Rating - 10
Million Dollar Advocates Forum
Litigator Awards

Res Ipsa Loquitur in Maryland

Res ipsa loquitur is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.” This term stands for an evidentiary rule personal injury attorneys in Maryland can use in some circumstances to bring a personal injury action in the absence of specific evidence of negligence.

Under this doctrine, plaintiffs may meet its prima facie burden of proof in a negligence action without concrete evidence that the defendant was negligent because the injury would not ordinarily occur without the defendant’s negligence.

This Latin phrase is a legal way of saying that the circumstances attendant upon an accident are themselves of such a character as to justify a jury in assuming negligence was the cause of the accident.”

The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur permits a factfinder to infer negligence and causation “on the part of a defendant from a showing of facts surrounding the happening of the injury, unaided by expert testimony, even though those facts do not show the mechanism of injury or the precise manner in which the defendant was negligent” (so the facts “speaks for itself”).

Res Ipsa Loquitur Examples

The classic res ipsa example is a piano falling out of a window. It is hard to imagine a piano falling out of a window without someone making a mistake that caused that to happen.

Another res ipsa example is a truck driving on a newly built road, and the road collapses. There would be an inference that the contractor who built the road was responsible.

Res ipsa in Maryland is not absolute negligence. In this last res ipsa example, the road contractor’s attorney would have the opportunity to rebut the inference of negligence by proving that the road collapsed for a different reason. Maybe the evidence at trial is that the truck weighed more than federal or state regulations allowed.

What Are the Elements of Res Ipsa Loquitur?

In Maryland, there are three elements an attorney must prove in a personal injury case to create an inference of negligence on the part of a defendant: (1) a casualty of a kind that does not ordinarily occur absent negligence, (2) that was caused by an instrumentality exclusively in the defendant’s control, and (3) an act or omission of the plaintiff did not cause that. Holzhauer v. Saks & Co., 346 Md. 328, 335-336 (1997).

“If the plaintiff presents evidence as to each of these conditions, and if the jury finds each condition to be more probable than not, the jury may find negligence even in the absence of evidence as to the exact mechanism of injury or the precise manner in which the defendant was negligent.” Tucker v. Univ. Specialty Hosp., 166 Md. App. 50, 59 (2005).

Auto accidents and truck accidents are unfortunately not uncommon occurrences in Maryland. These accidents occur under a large variety of circumstances under which different drivers and even non-drivers may be potentially at fault for the accident.

It is a rare case when only one inference may be drawn as to who is at fault for the crash. Auto accidents and truck accidents are not typical res ipsa cases. However, the mere fact that the occurrence is an auto or truck accident does not ipso facto preclude an accident attorney from invoking res ipsa to prove negligence.

Among the various types of motor vehicle accidents, one scenario in particular in Maryland, accident lawyers have sought consistently to apply the res ipsa loquitur doctrine.

Where a car, truck, or motorcycle leaves the road without a prior collision and thereby causes injury or damage, Maryland courts will draw an inference of negligence from the occurrence (assuming the other conditions set forth above are met) because the driving off the road really is the thing speaking for itself.

  • This video discusses how res ipsa loquitur is used in Maryland. In the notes, we identify and summarize the holdings or critical Maryland res ipsa cases.

When Is Res Ipsa Inapplicable?

The simpler the case, the more likely you can get the court to apply res ipsa. Maryland courts have generally refused to apply the res ipsa loquitur doctrine where the subject matter is so complex that a layperson cannot reasonably infer negligence based on their everyday experience.

So it works better for victims in motor vehicle accidents and simple products and premises liability cases than it does for more complicated types of litigation. See Orkin v. Holy Cross Hospital, 318 Md. 429, 433 (1990) (“Complex issues of the type generated by [a complex medical malpractice case] should not be resolved by laymen without expert assistance. Res ipsa does not apply under these circumstances.”)

Res ipsa is also unlikely to work in cases where specific standards or representations are not clearly defined and evidenced. So, for example, if systems and appliances were not working as intended, that will not get you to res ipsa loquitur alone because the malfunctioning does not necessarily imply negligence.

Scholars – okay, not really scholars – sometimes confuse res ipsa loquitur with another Latin term, ipso facto. There is a big difference between these two Latin terms.

Ispo facto means a particular effect is a direct consequence of the action in question instead of being brought about by a subsequent action. “You have Googled res ipsa loquitur; ipso facto you want
to learn more about it.”

Is There a Res Ipsa Jury Instruction?

Res ipsa is ultimately used by the jury to infer negligence in the absence of evidence. This is the “thing speaks for itself” instruction a judge would give the jury in Maryland.


The fact that an event happened does not mean it was caused by negligence. However, if the plaintiff has proven each of the following circumstances, you may conclude that there was negligence:

  1. the event would not ordinarily happen without negligence;
  2. the cause of the event was within the defendant’s exclusive control and
  3. no action or omission of the plaintiff was a cause of the event.

Example Maryland Res Ipsa Cases

    • Ferguson v. Creative Hairdressers, Inc. d/b/a Hair Cuttery (2023 opinion in which the court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, allowing the plaintiff’s claim of negligence to proceed without the necessity of expert testimony. The court found that the circumstances of Ferguson’s hair damage following a salon treatment were sufficient to invoke the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. This doctrine permits an inference of negligence based on the occurrence of an injury, the court said, and that typically does not happen without negligence, where the cause of injury was under the exclusive control of the defendant, and the injury was not due to any action of the plaintiff. As a result, Ferguson’s testimony and evidence, such as the condition of her hair before and after the treatment, and the lack of detailed training or policy documents from the defendant, were deemed adequate to suggest negligence.)
    • Bardroff v. Sanexen Water, Inc. (2023 opinion in which Bardroff sued Sanexen Water, Inc. for negligence after a trip-and-fall incident caused by a temporary water pipe installation. Bardroff argued that the Defendant was aware of the hazardous condition created by the asphalt-covered pipe across her driveway, which eventually led to her fall and injury. The U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Mark Coulson motion for summary judgment. While Plaintiff argues for the application of res ipsa loquitur, the court finds it unnecessary to consider this doctrine at this stage. The judge acknowledges that res ipsa loquitur typically comes into play when direct evidence of negligence is scarce or solely within the defendant’s control. However, reviewing Plaintiff’s own deposition testimony, the Court concludes that they possess sufficient direct evidence of negligence, rendering res ipsa loquitur unnecessary, focusing instead on classis slip and fall premises liablity law.)
    • Frankel v. Deane (2022 dental malpractice case in Calvert County, another case where the plaintiff prevailed by lost on res ipsa.  This case concerned extraction of wisdom teeth and subsequent nerve damage, the application of res ipsa loquitur was not deemed appropriate. Res ipsa loquitur was not applicable.  The patient’s injury, while severe, was a recognized complication of the dental procedure, potentially occurring even when due care is exercised. This made it challenging to infer negligence solely based on the occurrence of the injury. Additionally, the case involved detailed medical records and expert testimonies which provided specific insights into the patient’s condition and the standard of care. These detailed accounts went beyond the general scope where res ipsa loquitur typically applies, as they offered direct evidence and expert analysis specific to the case. As a result, the complexity and specificity of the medical evidence presented required a more direct examination of negligence, rather than relying on the inference-based approach of res ipsa loquitur.)
    • Flemming v. Valley Proteins (in an unreported case in 2019, the Court of Special Appeals commented in a lane change case in dicta that the Latin expression “applies only in exceptional cases, in which the particular type of accident would not occur in the absence of negligence)
    • Colbert v. Baltimore City (court found res ipsa did not apply in water main break in 2018)
    • Jean v. TJZ Companies (unreported opinion in premises liability case in 2017)
    • Gillespie v. Ruby Tuesday (premises liability in 2012)
    • District of Columbia v. Singleton (car accident in 2012)

Older Maryland Res Ipsa Cases

  • Harford v. Lloyd E. Mitchell (1973 case involving injury from falling metal hanger from an area where steamfitters were hanging metal plumbing pipes)
  • Munzert v. American Stores Co., (1963 case where wooden soft-drink cartons falling from a handcart injured store customer)
  • Fields v. Reid-Hayden (1947 case where wooden planking fell from scaffolding)
  • Clough & Malloy, Inc. v. Shilling (1925 case with same core facts as the previous case, a wooden beam falling from scaffolding — cannot find an online cite for this one)

Recent Res Ipsa Appellate Opinions

  • Leonard v. HBM Park Manor of Salina (2023 case that ruled in favor of a skilled nursing facility in a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit. The court rejected the application of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine, stating it was inapplicable as the cause of a nursing home fall was unknown, and the circumstances did not exclusively point to the defendant’s fault.)
  • Schindler Elevator Corporation v. Ceasar (2023 case where the Texas Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether the trial court improperly included a res ipsa loquitur instruction in a negligence case involving an elevator accident. The court concluded that the evidence presented by Ceasar’s expert to support the res ipsa loquitur doctrine was conclusory and insufficient to establish that such an accident would not typically occur without negligence. This ruling reminds us of the importance of concrete evidence in applying the res ipsa loquitur doctrine in negligence cases.)


Client Reviews
They quite literally worked as hard as if not harder than the doctors to save our lives. Terry Waldron
Ron helped me find a clear path that ended with my foot healing and a settlement that was much more than I hope for. Aaron Johnson
Hopefully I won't need it again but if I do, I have definitely found my lawyer for life and I would definitely recommend this office to anyone! Bridget Stevens
The last case I referred to them settled for $1.2 million. John Selinger
I am so grateful that I was lucky to pick Miller & Zois. Maggie Lauer
The entire team from the intake Samantha to the lawyer himself (Ron Miller) has been really approachable. Suzette Allen
The case settled and I got a lot more money than I expected. Ron even fought to reduce how much I owed in medical bills so I could get an even larger settlement. Nchedo Idahosa
Contact Information