In some personal injury cases, there is no direct evidence that a party was negligent, but there is also no other reasonable explanation for how the plaintiff’s injuries occurred. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies in cases in which negligence can be inferred, based on the circumstances, but there is no direct evidence of negligence. Under Maryland law, res ipsa loquitur is available in accident cases if an injury or accident “is one which ordinarily would not occur without negligence on the part of the operator of the vehicle,” and “the facts are so clear and certain that the inference of negligence arises naturally.” Res ipsa loquitur allows a plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of negligence, without having direct evidence of negligence. The doctrine requires that a plaintiff show: (1) the accident was a type that does not normally occur absent negligence, (2) the accident was caused by an instrument exclusively in the defendant’s control, and (3) the accident was not caused by the plaintiff. In a recent case, a court considered the applicability of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur after small metal fragments were discovered in a container of yogurt.
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff bought a small container of yogurt that was manufactured and packaged by Yoplait. The plaintiff claimed that she opened the container, stirred it, and began eating, when she felt a crunching sensation, which she found out were sharp metal fragments. She was taken to a hospital, where 17 metal fragments were removed from her stomach. She filed claims against Yoplait for negligence and negligence per se. A trial court found that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied in this case because there was “an inference that the metal flakes were inserted . . . prior to the container being sealed.” But the trial judge found that Yoplait had rebutted the inference and dismissed the case.
The appeals court held that the judge should not have dismissed the case because if res ipsa loquitur applies, the case should go to a jury for a decision. The court explained that the doctrine warrants an inference of negligence, rather than a presumption of negligence. Therefore, the trial court should have allowed the jury to make a decision concerning Yoplait’s negligence and whether Yoplait overcame the inference of negligence. Accordingly, the appeals court sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. The court also noted that Yoplait failed to appeal the court’s ruling that res ipsa loquitur applied in the case, so it could not decide whether that decision was correct.