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Res Ipsa Loquitur

Res ipsa loquitur is a powerful legal doctrine. This legal maxim makes difficult for that person who wants to escape from liability. Meaning of Res ipsa loquitur is ‘the thing speaks for itself’. In some cases, more particularly in the case of accident, the incidents themselves speak about the proof of negligence.

The general rule is that the plaintiff must prove the negligence. In some cases, the plaintiff can prove the accidents, but it is difficult to prove how it happened. This hardship on the plaintiff is avoided by applying this maxim of res ipsa loquitur. It means that once this maxim is applied, it is for the defendant ought to prove that the incident did not occur due to his negligence. However, the defendant can escape from liability by disproving negligence on his part.

It is to be noted that this maxim is not a rule of law. It is a rule of evidence. It is a rule which gives benefit to the plaintiff by not requiring him to prove negligence.

The elements of res ipsa loquitur are:

  1. There must be reasonable evidence of negligence.
  2. The circumstances must be under the direct control of the defender or his servants.
  3. The accident must be of such a type that would not occur without negligence.
If a plaintiff establishes the elements of res ipsa loquitur, the court will apply the doctrine. Then the burden is placed on the defendant to provide an explanation of the accident which caused the harm. In such case, if the defendant fails to give proper explanation, it will be presumed that the incident occurred due to the negligence of the defendant.

This doctrine arose out of a famous English case,

Byrne V. Boadle [(1863) 2 H&C 722]
The plaintiff was a passer-by in the street in which defendant was maintaining a warehouse. On the day of incident, when the plaintiff was passing through the street, a barrel of flour rolled from the doors of the warehouse and fell on the plaintiff. The plaintiff received injuries. The plaintiff sued the defendant for damages.

The House of lords held that the things at the place of incident, i.e., the flour and barrel in the street and the flour on the body of the injured, themselves speak to the facts of the incident and the liability of the defendant. The defendant was directed to pay compensation to the plaintiff.

Some Indian Cases:
Aagya Kaur V. Pepsu Road Transport Corporation [AIR 1980 P&H 183]
A bus coming on the wrong side dashed a rickshaw. After hitting the rickshaw, it also hit an electric pole.
The court held that the above facts are speaking themselves about the high speed of the bus. The inference was drawn that the driver of the bus was negligent and held liable.

The Chief Secretary, Govt Of Karnataka V. Ramesh [AIR 2005 Karnataka 39]
The petitioner was injured by a bullet while sitting in his house when a police sub-inspector opened fire from his service revolver to control a violent mob outside the petitioner’s house. The defendant gave no evidence to show that the conduct of such sub-inspector in firing was warranted by circumstances and diligently done.

The court applied the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and held that sub-inspector was liable to pay compensation to the petitioner.

Kaunu Rawther V. Kerala State Road Transport Corporation [AIR 1975 Ker 109]
A person was standing at the back side of a bus at a bus stand. He was knocked down by the bus when it was being reversed. The maxim res ipsa loquitur was applied, and the respondents were held liable for not taking care and caution by the driver and the conductor.

Conclusion
Res ipsa loquitur states that it is reasonable that liability lies with the defendant, and no other evidence required to be furnished. But the defendant can escape from liability by disproving negligence on his part. This doctrine can be used in many ways for benefit of people. For example, it can be used in medical malpractice also.

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