Special Negligence Doctrines: Examples Cases

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  • 0:05 Special Negligence Doctrines
  • 2:26 Res Ipsa Loquitur
  • 3:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

Negligence per se and res ipsa loquitur are two types of special negligence doctrines that do not require the reasonable person test. Both doctrines assume liability for the fact that negligent acts caused damages.

Special Negligence Doctrines

In ordinary negligence cases, the court weighs whether a person acted in ways less than a reasonable person would act, like neglecting to shovel snow after a storm that makes for a slippery walking surface. This is sometimes called the Reasonable Persons Test, and it simply measures an act against what a reasonable person would do.

The four criteria used to identify negligence on the defendant's part are:

Did the defendant have a duty in this scenario?

Did they breach that duty?

Did the defendant cause the plaintiff damage?

What was the extent of the damage?

In order to help determine answer these questions, we have something called Special Negligence Doctrines. These can be used to determine elements of negligence. These doctrines are:

  • Negligence Per Se
  • Res Ipsa Loquitur

Negligence per se involves negligent acts that violate a public policy, like speed limits or other statutes that protect citizens. What makes this type of negligence different from ordinary negligence is that the court measures the defendant's actions against the policy, not that of a reasonable person. Four elements that make for a case are:

  • The defendant acted in a less than dutiful way.
  • Their violation was of a public policy.
  • The creation of the public policy was to prevent the type of injury sustained by the plaintiff.
  • The plaintiff was a member of the group protected by the policy.

Let's put this to the test. Sometime in 1889, Ms. Osborne did some shopping at McMasters Drug Store. One specific item she purchased was an unlabeled bottle. Not knowing what was in the bottle, she drank it and died. It was poison! Her estate claimed that McMasters had a duty to label their products. In fact, public policy required product labeling. The clerk in charge of labeling products neglected to do so. Because of his negligence, Osborne was poisoned.

In this case, the defendant had a duty to adhere to public policy that required him to label products. He did not do so. When used, this policy will avoid this type of injury, and Osborne was part of the group protected by the public policy: She was a consumer. Judgment favored the plaintiff. McMasters appealed the decision, but lost. The court decided that McMasters had a duty to label products, and because he failed that duty, a serious injury, well, death actually, occurred.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Res ipsa loquitur works a little differently. Res ipsa loquitur translates to 'the thing speaks for itself,' and means a defendant is considered liable for injury if he controlled the very thing that caused the injury, even if he was not negligent. However, carelessness counts toward liability. Three elements need be present to prove a case:

  • The injury was caused by something the defendant had within his control.
  • A careless act caused the injury.
  • The plaintiff's actions did not cause the injury.

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