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Superior Court Denies Appeal After Applying Elements of 'Res Ipsa Loquitur'

On September 7, 2007, in a unanimous opinion regarding MacNutt v. Temple University Hospital, 2007 Pa. Super. 279, 932 A.2d 980 (Pa. Super. 2007), lead by Judge Gantman, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reviewed the trial court’s refusal to allow the plaintiffs/appellants to proceed at trial on a theory of res ipsa loquitur.* In reviewing that refusal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court thoroughly examined and summarized the relevant existing law.

After applying three elements of res ipsa loquitur as discussed in the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 328D(1)** to the particular facts of the case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court denied plaintiffs/appellants’ appeal. In particular, the court found that because the nature of the injury was itself in dispute, the injury could not have occurred without negligence. The court further found that a factual dispute exists where other possible causes exists for the injury, thereby eliminating the possibility that the case is a res ipsa loquitur one.

*The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is a rule of circumstantial evidence which allows plaintiffs, without direct evidence of the elements of negligence, to present their case to the jury based on an inference of negligence.

**The three elements of res ipsa loquitur as outlined in the Restatement (Second) of Torts §328D are: (1) It may be inferred that harm suffered by the plaintiff is caused by negligence of the defendant when (a) the event is of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of negligence; (b) the other responsible causes, including the conduct of the plaintiff and third persons, are sufficiently eliminated by the evidence; and (c) the indicated negligence is within the scope of the defendant’s duty to the plaintiff.

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