The literal translation means “The thing speaks for itself.”
This usually refers to a document. However, a document can never truly speak for itself. It is a document. Yet, there's certain things that are self-evident when reading a typed and clearly readable document. You can usually identify who sent it and where it came from. If it is typed, you can usually determine the meaning of the words printed on the page.
It is often not necessary to bring in a witness who is familiar with the document to simply read it.
The defense often raises an objection when we try and have the person who wrote the document explain the meaning behind the written words.
“Objection! The document speaks for itself.”
Well, that's not exactly true. There may be subtle undertones of how things were written that may change the meaning and intent of those words.
In New York, that type of objection is not sufficient enough to prevent the witness from answering the question.
“Doctor, what did you mean when you wrote...?”
“Objection. It's plainly visible what he meant by the words that are written in the document. Res Ipsa Loquitur."
Another time we use this phrase is when we claim the patient suffered injury as a result of a doctor's carelessness during surgery. We will often allege that since the patient was under anesthesia, it was physically impossible for the injury to have occurred, but for the defendant's carelessness.
Where the patient plays no role in causing or contributing to their own injuries, such as when they are under general anesthesia during surgery, the mere fact that they have suffered an injury that should never have occurred is an ideal time to raise this allegation that “the injury speaks for itself.”
Example: Let's say you go in for shoulder surgery and come out with a burn to your right leg. We know that your right leg should not have been touched or affected during the surgery, yet you clearly have a visible burn that should not have been there. In that case, the injury speaks for itself.
To learn more about res ipsa loquitor, I invite you to watch the quick video below...