Res Ipsa Loquitur – Law of Torts

Res Ipsa Loquitur – Law of Torts


Res Ipsa Loquitur is a principle which shifts the burden of proof on the defendant by applying it. Generally, it is the complainant who needs to offer evidence to support the misconduct of the defendant in a lawsuit.  There is, however, a shift when this principle is used. The responsibility of proof transfers to the defendant. On the part of the defendant, there is a presumption of negligence and it is up to him to show his innocence and that it was not his actions that caused the injury of the plaintiff. The defendant presides over the evidence.

According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, the theory is characterized as the doctrine that, in certain circumstances, the mere occurrence of an accident raises an inference of negligence in order to decide a case prima facie. It is a symbol of the law that the nature of an accident taken with the surrounding circumstances can allow an inference or raise a presumption of negligence, or render a prima facie case of a complainant and raise a question of fact for the defendant to meet with an answer.

In order for the principle res ipsa loquitur to apply it is important that the incident causing the accident must have been under the jurisdiction of the defendant. Therefore, where the circumstances surrounding the thing that causes the harm are entirely under the control or supervision of the defendant or his servant at the material time and the occurrence is such as does not occur without negligence on the part of the defendant in the ordinary course of things, the rule applies and the burden of proof is transferred from the plaintiff to the defendant. Where the doctrine applies, a presumption of fault is posed against the defendant, which must be resolved by contrary facts if it is to succeed in his defense, the duty on the defendant is to explain how the act accused of might possibly occur without negligence on his part. The mode of inferential reasoning of Res Ipsa Loquitur comes into play where an accident of unknown cause is one that would not usually occur without the defendant’s negligence in controlling the item or action that harmed the plaintiff or destroyed his property. The court is entitled to presume negligence on the part of the defendant in such a case unless he gives an appropriate statement consistent with his having taken due care.

The Res Ipsa Loquitur theory was first put forth in Byrne v. Boadle by J.Baron Pollock(159 Eng. Rep. 299 (1863)). A barrel of flour falling from a second-story window hit Byrne. The presumption of the court was that a barrel of flour falling from a second-story window is ample evidence of neglect in itself. The judge said,” It is the responsibility of persons who keep barrels in a warehouse to take care that they do not roll out, and I think that such a case would, beyond all doubt, afford prima facie proof of negligence. A barrel could not roll out of the window of the warehouse without some negligence, and to say that a plaintiff who is injured by it must call witnesses from the warehouse to prove negligence seems to me preposterous”.


Res Ipsa Loquitur is an improper type of circumstantial evidence that helps the plaintiff to establish the probable negligence of the defendant in some cases. Therefore, the correctly followed doctrine does not require any covert form of strict liability. It just means that the court does not know what really happened in the particular case, and cannot find out. Instead, knowledge of the causes of the form or category of injuries involved is the basis of the finding of probable negligence. There is the Res Ipsa Loquitur test to find the application of the maxim, where it is decided if the defendant has gone beyond planning and has actually made an attempt on the basis of whether the defendant’s act it would have told an observer what the defendant wanted to do. Applying the principle implies that negligence is founded prima facie by a claimant where:

It is not possible for him to prove exactly what the relevant act or omission was that set in motion the events leading to the accident are; but it is more probable than not that the successful cause of this accident was some act or omission of the defendant or of someone for whom the defendant is liable, that act or omission of the defendant or of someone for whom the defendant is liable, that act or omission is a failure to take good care of the protection of the complainant.

In Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Subhagwanti,( A.I.R. 1966 S.C. 1750.)

A number of people died in the collapse of the Clock Tower, located opposite the Town Hall in the main bazaar of Chandni Chowk, Delhi. The Clock Tower belonged to and was solely under its jurisdiction, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. It was 80 years old but, considering the type of mortar used, the normal life of the structure of the top floor of the building that had fallen could be 40-45 years. The Supreme Court ruled, under these cases, that the collapse of the Clock Tower tells its own tale of the defendant’s presumption of negligence. Since the defendants were unable to show that there was no wrongdoing on their part, they were held responsible.

In Bindra Devi Chauhan v. State of H.P.( A.I.R. 2006 S.C. 91)

The State authorities began the excavation near the plaintiff’s house for the construction of the playground, which was on one side of the petitioner’s house. The petitioner’s house collapsed due to the careless and incriminating excavations undertaken by the defendants. The damage caused to the house was found to have been due to such excavations. Besides, the defendants did not erect any retaining walls when doing excavation work. Accordingly, the evidence of negligence on the part of the defendants was founded and the claimant was held entitled to compensation for the damage to her home, for the safety of the site by raising the breast wall for the difficulty she was experiencing.

CHRIST UNIVERSITY 1st year student

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