August 18, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: Burden of Proof Does Not Shift Under Res Ipsa Loquitur

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Chapman, M.D. v. Harner on Monday, December 8, 2014.

Allocation of the Burden of Proof Under Res Ipsa Loquitur.

In this case, the Supreme Court clarified the proper allocation of the burden of proof under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Specifically, the Court resolved the tension between its fifty-six-year-old precedent in Weiss v. Axler, 137 Colo. 544, 559, 328 P.2d 88, 96-97 (1958), which held that the burden of proof shifts to the defendant once a plaintiff makes a prima facie showing of res ipsa loquitur, and the more recent adoption of CRE 301, which indicates that rebuttable presumptions such as res ipsa loquitur shift onto the defendant only the burden of production and not the burden of proof. After determining that this issue has remained unsettled since the adoption of CRE 301, the Court held that the burden of proof does not shift to the defendant under res ipsa loquitur. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur Shifted Burden of Proof to Defendant in Negligence Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Harner v. Chapman, MD on Thursday, December 27, 2012.

Medical Malpractice—Res Ipsa Loquitur Doctrine—CRE 301.

Plaintiff Carolyn Harner appealed the judgment entered in favor of defendant Dr. James Chapman, as well as the denial of her motion for post-trial relief. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

This medical malpractice case arose out of the death of Harner’s husband, who died several hours after undergoing an angiogram performed by Chapman, a cardiologist. Harner’s principal argument was that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury that the res ipsa loquitur doctrine shifted to Dr. Chapman the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he was not negligent. The trial court concluded that the res ipsa loquiturdoctrine applied, but that the ultimate burden of proof remained with Harner pursuant to CRE 301. However, CRE 301 does not supersede the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Accordingly, the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury that the res ipsa loquitur doctrine shifted the burden of proof to defendant. Because the question of who had the ultimate burden of proof may well have been dispositive in this case, the error was not harmless. Therefore, the judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary and full case available here.