Res Ipsa Loquitor

The legal term for ‘the thing speaks for itself’ is called Res Ipsa Loquitor. It is circumstantial evidence which suggests negligence from the nature and type of accident that has taken place and in absence of direct incriminating evidence against the defendant. It is a very popular doctrine in the law of torts.  

Background

Accidents are common and mostly are due to someone’s negligence. In the law of torts, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove negligence on part of the defendant. It is an arduous task to always prove that the defendant was at fault and to gather evidence against an act or omission. The principle of Res Ipsa Loquitor thus came into force under which a plaintiff can establish negligence using circumstantial evidence.
Elements of Res Ipsa Loquitor
A plaintiff must meet a few requirements to claim compensation under the tort of Res Ipsa Loquitor.

The evidence in totality rules out any possibility of the plaintiff or the third party being at fault.

The event that caused an injury to the plaintiff does not occur unless and until there was negligence on part of someone.

There is a duty of care of defendant towards the plaintiff which he breached.

Distinction between Res Ipsa Loquitor and prima facie

The fundamental difference between Res Ipsa Loquitor and Prima Facie is that the latter just tends to prove if a certain circumstance or event could or not have occurred. There is a distinct lack of conclusiveness and thus is true only till its rebuttal and in any case, it just tends to state that for a given situation there is enough evidence to prove.

Res Ipsa Loquitor states that there is a reasonable chance that the liability lies with the defendant and hence, no further evidence is required to be furnished.
It is to be noted that both the doctrines are rebuttable in the sense that the

Hence, the keynote difference between the key doctrines states that while prima facie aims at providing the evidence to prove liability, Res Ipsa Loquitor states that it is reasonable that liability lies with the defendant and hence, no further evidence is required to be furnished. But both the doctrines are rebuttable in the sense that the defendant may prove the case in opposite to the stated evidence and hence negate the applicability of the doctrines.

Res Ipsa Loquitor & Its Essentials

Negligence

For the element of Res Ipsa Loquitor to be made applicable in any case, the accident should be such as which could not have happened if ordinary course of things had happened without negligence. For instance, a barrel of flour cannot randomly fall on someone’s head if the party is reasonably careful. And also, a Clock tower in the heart of the city will need extra care and if it falls and causes injury to several people, the defendants will but obviously be held liable for the same under this principle. In such cases, direct evidence of proving negligence is not important, but the plaintiff has to establish a prima facie case, either by direct or circumstantial evidence of defendant’s negligence.

The defendant must have exclusive control

The thing that has caused the damage must be under the direct control of the defendant or his representative. It is not always necessary that all the circumstances are under the defendant’s control, but if the events leading upto the accidents were under the control of others besides the defendant, then the mere happening of the accident is insufficient evidence against the defendant. For instance, if a surgeon at the time of the operation leaves a mop inside the patient’s abdomen, here the doctor had exclusive control over the patient’s health and so, therefore, he would be liable under the principle of Res Ipsa Loquitor.

Freedom from Contributory Negligence

The third essential for the principle is that the plaintiff or any third party did not cause or contribute to the injuries suffered by him. If it is found that the plaintiff or third party contributed to the act that caused damage to the plaintiff, then the principle shall not apply.

Once these elements are established, there is a possibility that courts treat it as a possible assumption of negligence on the part of the defendant. Normally, following this the jury in question presumes that the defendant is liable. The jury, however, is not bound to presume such things. In such cases, the burden of proof is on the defendant that he was not negligent. Thus this principle is rebuttable and if the defendant can successfully rebut the claim of negligence, he will win the case. Otherwise, he shall be made liable.

 

Sidharth Nair 
on 05 December 2018
Published in Students
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