Proving Your Personal Injury Claim When You Don’t Know What Happened

Personal injury claims usually involve accidents. Most times, no one was actively out to cause you harm. But when an accident does occur, you often don’t know what happened to cause it. Will the fact that you can’t remember – or never knew – affect your personal injury claim?

Proving Negligence Usually Means Showing What Happened

Most personal injury claims, including slip-and-fall cases and other forms of premises liability, involve proving that the defendant (or the defendant’s employee) was negligent. That includes demonstrating:

  • That the Defendant had a responsibility to you to prevent injury (called a duty of care)
  • That duty of care was breached because the defendant did something he or she shouldn’t have done or didn’t do something he or she should have done.
  • That the defendant’s behavior caused your injury (called causation)
  • That the injury resulted in damages

Many personal injury cases rise and fall whether the defendant did something that was negligent. To prove that, you usually have to show what happened and what should have been done differently to avoid the accident.

Plaintiffs Sometimes Don’t Know What Happened

The trouble is that sometimes the person injured doesn’t know what happened. Maybe he struck his head and has a gap in his memory. Maybe the behavior happened where she couldn’t see. Maybe no one knows exactly what happened to cause the injury.

Plaintiffs’ personal injury attorneys have many tools at their disposal to investigate and prove what happened to cause an accident. In preparing your case, your lawyers may:

  • Review any police or accident reports
  • Go to the scene of the accident and take pictures
  • Inspect any property or vehicles involved in the injury
  • Review video of the event
  • Talk to witnesses who saw what happened
  • Question the defendant about what he or she did or didn’t do
  • Hire someone to reconstruct the scene
  • Talk to experts about how such an accident could have happened

Even with all those tools, sometimes no one knows what happened. In those cases, there is still a legal argument available to plaintiffs that says this kind of thing doesn’t happen without someone being negligent, and it was most likely the defendant. This claim is known by its Latin name: Res Ipsa Loquitor.

Res Ipsa Loquitor Proves Personal Injury Case Against Blueberry Farm

John Pugno was the victim of one of those accidents. He was working as an air-compressor technician when he visited the Blue Harvest blueberry farm in West Olive, Michigan. As the farm owner, Adam LaLone took him to inspect a malfunctioning air compressor, a stack of cardboard pallets fell on them, breaking Pugno’s hip.

At trial, no one could say precisely why the pallets fell. Pugno’s attorneys said the most logical explanation was that LaLone had stacked them improperly the week before. Blue Harvest’s attorneys said it was more likely the pallet was cracked when it was delivered to the farm. But Blue Harvest hadn’t saved the pallets or boxes or take any pictures. It had no evidence to support its claim that the pallets were the problem, rather than the way its owner stacked them.

The Michigan Court of Appeals issued a published opinion saying Pugno could use res ipsa loquitor to prove the pallets fell because Blue Harvest and Adam LaLone were negligent. According to the court, the jury could have properly decided that:

  • Pallets don’t ordinarily fall without someone’s negligence
  • Blue Harvest had exclusive control over the pallets
  • Pugno had nothing to do with the pallets falling
  • Blue Harvest had better access to the evidence proving the true cause of the accident

Since Blue Harvest had disposed of the pallets and used all the boxes, the jury was allowed to assume that the evidence would have worked against its version of the case. Because of this, the Court of Appeals upheld the jury verdict of $358,288.98 in favor of Pagno and his wife.

Proving negligence can be difficult when you don’t know what happened to cause the injury. Personal injury attorneys can help by investigating the claim and building your case. But sometimes, it still all comes down to a question of common sense.

The Macomb Law Group, is a personal injury law firm in Clinton Township, MI. Our attorneys can help you review your case and investigate if you don’t know what happened. If you or a loved one have been seriously injured, contact Macomb Law Group and get our team working for you.


  • James Spagnuolo

    I began working in personal injury law more than 20 years ago, starting as a law clerk during my first year of law school at Wayne State University School of Law in Detroit. After passing the bar exam in 2002, I went on to become a partner at a series of law firms before opening the Macomb Law Group in 2017.

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