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What Is Res Ipsa Loquitur?

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Archive: Apr 2018

What Is Res Ipsa Loquitur?

The law is a complex profession that requires some use of legalese. Since many legal terms are Latin, it can be difficult to understand their meaning. On the other hand, these phrases often refer to precedent and evidentiary standards in legal cases, so a basic understanding is essential.

A common phrase you might hear throughout the course of a personal injury case is “res ipsa loquitur.” In Latin, this phrase means “the thing speaks for itself.” In a personal injury case, the idea of res ipsa loquitur means that the court can assume a defendant committed negligence based on the nature of the plaintiff’s injury.

In a typical personal injury case, the claimant must show that a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, that he or she breached that duty, and that his or her negligence directly led to a plaintiff’s injuries. Under res ipsa loquitur, however, a plaintiff can skip over parts one and two of the process, since the court assumes that a duty of care exists, and the defendant breached it, or committed negligence.

The Origins of Res Ipsa Loquitur

The origins of this legal doctrine date to 1863, when the court applied it to an English tort law case, Byrne v. Boadle. In this case, a barrel of flour fell from a second story loft and hit the claimant in the head. Two witnesses observed the injury, but no one saw how the barrel fell off the loft and hit the plaintiff. The court ruled that the plaintiff did not have to show direct evidence that the defendant (who was responsible for the barrel) breached his duty of care.

While this was the first formal invocation of res ipsa loquitur, the concept dates back much further, almost 2,000 years earlier, in fact.  Cicero, a Roman lawyer and politician, first invoked the term in his speech defending a friend accused of murder.

When Does Res Ipsa Loquitur Apply?

Unfortunately, your attorney cannot invoke res ipsa loquitur in every personal injury case – only in certain circumstances. Here is an example in which the doctrine might apply:

  • Adam sustains an injury on an escalator and loses a leg.
  • Eve’s corporation built and is responsible for maintaining the escalator.
  • Adam sues Eve. Eve moves for dismissal since he never showed or offered any evidence about why the escalator malfunctioned. In other words, she argued, there is no evidence her corporation is at fault.
  • The court rules that Adam does not have to prove anything other than the injury on the escalator itself, which others witnessed. The escalator evidently malfunctioned, and Eve’s corporation is responsible the escalator in every respect.
  • Therefore, “the thing speaks for itself” – Adam does not have to provide more evidence to establish the first two aspects of a personal injury case.

Res ipsa loquitur is also common in medical malpractice cases. In Ybarra v. Spangard, a patient suffered complications following back surgery, but it was unclear which member of the surgical team was responsible for the injury. The court ruled that everyone breached a duty under res ipsa loquitur, as it was evident that at least one party’s negligence led to the injury.

A plaintiff may also invoke the doctrine following a surgery and subsequent discovery of a foreign object. Though the patient cannot provide specific evidence as to how the foreign object entered his or her body while he or she was unconscious, the court can infer that it should not be there. “The thing speaks for itself” – the patient does not need to prove that the physician owed the patient a duty of care or that the provider breached it. He or she must only show how that negligence led to the injury.

Res ipsa loquitur is an important legal concept that applies to certain personal injury cases. Even if you don’t know how an injury occurred, you may have a case under this doctrine.

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Are Workers’ Compensation Benefits Taxable?

Workers’ compensation insurance is a government program managed by each individual state; the pool of resources is comprised of payments, required by law, that employers of a certain size and scope must pay – this fund compensates individual employees in the event he or she suffers injury on the job. And for good reason. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.9 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses occurred in 2016, including 892,300 cases requiring days away from work.

However, with the end of tax season right around the corner, one of the main questions we receive is: Are my workers’ compensation benefits taxable?

Are workers’ compensation benefits taxable income?

Typically, at the state or federal level, these benefits are not taxable, and payments to survivors are exempt as well. However, when an individual also receives Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), if employees receive worker’s compensation on top of either of those subsidies, there are some instances when the Social Security Administration (SSA) will reduce one or both of those payments to lower the individual’s earnings below a certain threshold.

If workers’ compensation reduces your Social Security benefits, this reduction is like Social Security income, and thus, may be taxable.

If you have any further questions about workers’ compensation and their relation to taxes, contact our office today. We have over 30 years of experience when it comes to work injury law and can assist you with all your needs.


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Can Employers Pay Disabled Americans Below the Minimum Wage?

There are over 20 million working age disability recipients in the United States. Historically, individuals with disabilities have a harder time finding and maintaining competitive employment. Unemployment rates in the United States are at an all time low of 4.1%. Unfortunately, the job rates for the disability population are nearly three times as high.

Underemployment for Disability Recipients

Finding a job with a physical or mental disability is difficult. The unemployment rates are significantly higher than the non-disabled workforce, and underemployment is also disproportional. Individuals with disabilities typically work part-time, entry-level positions. Even recipients with college level or even advanced degrees have trouble obtaining full-time positions.

Poverty and Disability

A common myth: disability benefits provide recipients the means to live a self-sustaining or even an affluent lifestyle. Disability recipients are twice as likely to live in poverty, and those rates are on the rise, up 17% since 1990. The labor force participation rate measures people who have jobs or are actively looking for a job. That statistic fell from 39.4% in 2009, to 34.5 % in 2015 – indicating that a segment of the American population in the most need of jobs have stopped searching for them altogether.

Disability and Employment

In the United States, 17.9% of individuals receiving disability benefits have work, representing 7.2 million Americans. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects these workers.

Can Employers Pay Disabled Employees Less Than Non-Disabled Members of the Workforce?

The simple answer is maybe. The ADA protects workers from discrimination. However, the law is not an affirmative mandate, and thus, does not put an undue burden on employers to hire individuals with disabilities or guarantee equal compensation. Running contrary to the ADA protections is a 1938 provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

This provision allows employers to apply to the Department of Labor for a waiver. The waiver can allow employers to pay lower wages to individuals with disabilities. Today, approximately 195,000 disabled workers are paid sub-minimum wages under this 1938 provision.

How Is This Legal?

The provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to base wages on output. In an industrial setting, if a non-disabled worker is able to package and label 100 boxes for shipment every hour for a wage of $10, and a disabled worker is only able to output 30 boxes, under the 1938 provision, the employer of said box factory is justified in paying the disabled worker $3 an hour for his or her reduced output.

If you or someone in your family is experiencing pay discrepancy due to a physical or mental disability, there may be a remedy for your case. We will research your claim, and advise you on how much in lost wages or pain and suffering you may be able to recoup.

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