RES IPSA Loquitor - Application and case laws

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Res Ipsa Loquitor is a Latin maxim meaning “the thing speaks for itself.”
  • Common law originally stated that an accident must satisfy the necessary elements of Duty, Breach of Duty, Causation; and, Injury.
  • However, when the accident is fairly visible without the person alleging it having to prove, it is said to be Res Ipsa Loquitor.
  • It is not conclusive and only shifts the burden of proof on to the defendant contrary to the general rule.

INTRODUCTION

Res Ipsa Loquitor is a Latin maxim meaning ‘The Thing Speaks for Itself'. It is a Doctrine in the Anglo-American Common law that says that in a law suit, a court can infer negligence from the very nature of the accident or injury in the absence of direct evidence on whether or not the defendant was at fault, keeping in view his actions.

In modern times, this law has reshaped itself according to the country/jurisdiction where it is being read in, but common law originally stated that an accident must satisfy the necessary elements of -

In Res Ipsa Loquitor, these elements are inferred (Duty of Care, Breach and Causation) are inferred from an Injury that does not ordinarily occur without negligence and thus, in situations where Res Ipsa Loquitor is applied, the defendant's fault is apparent as it is more probable than not.

ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS

The essential elements of the doctrine of Res IpsaLoquitor are -

i) The injury suffered by the complainant is of a kind that ordinarily would not take place without negligence on the part of the party who was under a duty to be careful. The said injury is uncommon in the course of such act (The Act/Episode that took place between the two parties) unless and until the defendant does the act negligently.

ii) The injury is caused by something that was under the exclusive control of the defendant.This means that the complainant had little or no role to play in the act and saves the situation from falling the in bracket of ‘Contributory Negligence' or more flexibly Comparative Negligence.

iii) The injury causing accident is not caused by any voluntary action or contribution on par of the plaintiff. The plaintiff did not sign up for an injury voluntarily, nor did he contribute to the same and thus, the situation is saved from falling into the bracket of ‘Volenti Non-fit Injuria' .

iv) The defendant's explanation, explaining himself to be right does not completely explain the plaintiff's injury. The injury could not have been caused if it was not for the defendant's negligence.

For instance - Surgical instruments used by a doctor being negligently left inside a patient's body. Here -

i) The doctor was under a duty to be careful

ii) The instrument commonly would not get left inside the body if it was not for the doctor's negligence

iii) The patient has no control over the surgery and the doctor has exclusive control.

iv) The patient has not volunteered for the injury but to be cured/relieved.

Res Ipsa Loquitor typically applies to the cases of Medical Malpractices and is contrary to ‘Prima Facie'. It says that for a case / trial to be worthwhile, a party must show some minimum amount of evidence, whereas, Res Ipsa Loquitor says that a party need note explain more because the facts are obvious enough.

It is rightly quoted that ‘res Ipsa Loquitor' is not a Rule of Law, but a Rule of Evidence that benefits plaintiff by not requiring him to prove negligence on the part of the defendant. It is so because, Re Ipsa Loquitor stems from the common law and is not apart of the codified law in India. It is a doctrine that allows the prosecution prove its case based on the circumstantial evidence rather than direct evidence which may not be available in all cases.

And even if available, the circumstantial evidence is so probable that in the view of shared human knowledge and experience there stands no other way that the events could have taken place and injury could happen, but for the negligence on the part of the plaintiff.

For Instance - In the case where the doctor left a surgical instrument inside the patient's body, there is no other way such incident may happen in the ordinary course of events other than where the doctor is negligent.

However, it is to be kept in mind that this presumption is rebuttable and the defendant may come with his defense and rule out the possibility of the stated events with the use of evidence.Res Ipsa Loquitor thus is not conclusive but only shifts the burden if proof on to the defendant contrary to the general rule of law practiced otherwise in accordance with Section 101 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

CASE LAWS

This maxim roots from the case of Byrne Vs Boadle 1863 whereby a flour barrel which fell from the second storey of a building and injured the plaintiff and around this event the plaintiff could not gather direct evidence against the defendant to allege negligence on his part. However, the court decided in favour of the plaintiff opining that the circumstances of this case were different and so negligence could be presumed.

In the case of A.S Mittal Vs State of U.P, AIR 1989 SC the court held that Res Ipsa Loquitor can be applied in matters where a procedure in itself is not followed which comprised an indispensable duty on the part of the defendant and is not limited to the commission of an act.

In this case the state government organized an eye camp at Khurja and 88 eye operations took place (Low Risk Cataract Operations. However, all the patients lost eye sight because the required follow up procedure / post operation procedure was not followed by the doctors. An interim relief of 12,500 was grated to each of the patients.

The principle was also invoked in the popular Oleum Gas Leak Case - M.C Mehta Vs Union of India AIR 1987 SC where Oleum gas leaked out of one Shri Ram Mills killing many living in close vicinity. It was not possible to establish that the mill owners were negligent and so the burden was shifted on the respondents under Res Ipsa Loquitor.

 

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Raghav Arora Online
on 09 January 2021
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