Discuss The Principle of Res-Ipsa-Loquitur.


The legal maxim Res ipsa loquitur literally means “Things speaks for itself”. The principle of Res Ipsa Loquitur was first used in 1863 by J. Baron Pollock in the case of Byrne v. Boadle. The underline principle is that where the fact and nature of the injury itself “speaks” so as relieve the plaintiff of the obligation to produce proof of negligence.

The principle of res ipsa loquitur is differentiated from other causes, so as that the plaintiff does not need to prove specific negligence but needs only prove the negligence of an unspecified nature or facts from which it may be inferred that the defendant was negligent in some way or other.


There are certain essentials that are needed to be fulfilled in order to constitute the operation of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

  1. The event is one that normally does not occur in the absence of negligence.
  2. The defendant has exclusive control over the instrumentality causing the accident
  3. There may be no voluntary action on the part of the plaintiff which might have contributed to the injury.

The doctrine is not applicable in such cases where there is a divided responsibility or where the accident/action is due in part to the acts of a third party over which the defendant has no control.


  1. Byrne v. Boadle

It is considered as the leading English case, where the principle of res ipsa loquitur was first put into effect. In this case, the plaintiff while walking along the public street, suddenly the plaintiff was struck with a barrel of flour falling from the above window. There were two eyewitnesses who saw the accident but could not offer any evidence to the reason for the accident.

In the Court of Exchequer, it was held the plaintiff has provided with evidence, by the proof of injury.”If there are any facts inconsistent with negligence,” it for the defendant to prove them.[1]

  1. Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Subhagwanti [2]

This is one of the major cases decided by the Supreme Court of India on the principle of res ipsa loquitur. A clock tower in Chandni Chowk, Delhi collapsed, Three suits for damages were filed by the respondents as heirs of three persons who died as a result of the collapse. The clock tower belonged to the appellant (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) which has failed to take proper care and time to time maintenance of the old structure.

The appellant contended that the honorable high court of Delhi was not correct in the application of the principle of res ipsa loquitur and argued that the structure collapsed due to inevitable accident which could not have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care or caution.

The Supreme of India concurred with ratio decidendi of High court that the appellant (Corporation) has failed to conduct periodical checks of the structure which was

exclusively under the ownership and control of the appellant, therefore it would justify raising an inference of negligence so as to establish a prima facie case against the appellant.

  1. State Of Punjab vs Modern Cultivators, Ladwa[3]

The respondent brought a suit against the petitioner (State of Punjab) for recovery of losses caused by flooding of its lands as a result of a break in a canal belonging to the State. The case of Government was that breach did take place but it was promptly repaired and the fields were flooded not by the canal water but by heavy rains in the month of September.

The apex court upheld the decision of the high court and decided in the favour of the respondent (modern cultivators) by the reason that the state has failed to perform periodical inspections and to check whether there was the development of crack and breaches.

The rule of res ipsa loquitur was applicable to the facts of this case because there would not have been breaching the banks of the canal if those in management took proper care and the breach itself would be prima facie proof of negligence.[4]


  • The principle of res ipsa loquitur only shifts the onus of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant. Simply put it is now upon the defendant to prove that he was not negligent, due to which the injury was caused to the plaintiff. This does not necessarily mean that he must prove how and why the accident happened. It would be sufficient if he satisfies the court that he personally was not negligent.[5]
  • The principle of res ipsa loquitur is not a special rule of substantive law but it only aids in the evaluation of evidence, it is a means to means of estimating logical probabilities from the circumstances of the accident.
  • The principle is not applicable in incidents in which more than one inference can be drawn for a conclusion. It is only applicable where the probability that the accident is due to negligence is materially greater than it is due to any other cause, and the circumstances contributing to the accident are within the defendant’s control.
  • Negligence should have direct nexus with the accident. For example, if a doctor’s act causes injury to the patient, he would be liable to his negligence but such liability will be limited to the direct consequences of his act which a reasonable prudent man would foresee as natural consequences of his act.


The principle of res ipsa loquitur is a very protean concept which is not confined to things falling from above or in cases where the surgeon leaves surgical instrument inside the patient, its usage has been found in myriad ways by the judicial system around the world. Throughout years, the courts have come out with the diverse application of res ipsa loquitur. This is indeed beneficial for the judicial system to cater to the masses where it broadens the horizon and widen opportunities to give the most possible justice to the people.

[1] Byrne v Boadle (2 Hurl. & Colt. 722, 159 Eng. Rep. 299, 1863)

[2] Municipal Corporation Of Delhi vs Subhagwanti & Others {1966 AIR 1750, 1966 SCR (3) 649}

[3] State Of Punjab vs Modern Cultivators, Ladwa {1965 AIR 17, 1964 SCR (8) 273}

[4] Judgment justice Sarkar

[5] Woods v. Duncan (1946) AC 401

This Article is Written by Amritesh Panda, First Year BA LLB student in Symbiosis Law School Pune.

Also Read – Damnum Sine Injuria and Injuria Sine Damnum

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