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
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
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:
- There must be reasonable evidence of negligence.
- The circumstances must be under the direct control of the defender or
- The accident must be of such a type that would not occur without
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
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
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
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
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.
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