Res ipsa loquitur

The rule that it is for the plaintiff to prove negligence and not for defendant to disprove it, is in some cases one of considerable hardship to the plaintiff, because it may be that the true cause of the accident lies, solely within the knowledge of the defendant who caused it. In such cases it is sufficient for the plaintiff to prove the accident and nothing more for there is a presumption of negligence according to the maxim –“Res ipsa loquitur” the thing speaks for itself, such a presumption arises when the cause of the mischief was apparently under the control of the defendant or his servants.

State of Punjab vs. M/s Modern Cultivators (1954) 2 SCJ 996

It was observed by the Supreme Court that the principle of Res ipsa loquitur is not a principle which dispenses with prove of negligence. It is a rule of evidence and not of liability. A too ready reliance on the maxim reinforces a faulty liability and makes it into absolutely liability. The principle of apply where fault has to be inferred from circumstances was.


The following conditions must be satisfied for Res ipsa loquitur to comes into play-

1. The event which caused the accident must have resulted within the control of the defendant.

2. The mere occurrence of the event must raise of itself a reasonable interfere that the defendant or his servants or agents have been negligent.

Permeshwari Das vs. Soman Devi, AIR 1960 Punjab 392

Here a private carrier met with an accident due to defective tie rod which connected the steering wheel with the wheels of the car, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur fully applied in such a case and the burden of proving that an accident was inevitable is upon the owner of the private carrier.


The following are the limitations to the rule of res ipsa loquitur:

1. The rule does not apply to all accidents or mischief. It applies only when the cause of the accident lies solely within the knowledge of the defendant or is apparently under the control of the defendant or his servant.

2. The rule does not create a legal presumption of negligence. There is only a rebuttable and not an irrebuttable presumption of negligence which the defendant may be able to rebut.

3. The burden of proving negligence is in all cases on the plaintiff, but under the rule it is only less heavy on the plaintiff than otherwise.

4. Under the rule the plaintiff, in the first instance, need only prove the accident. If he proves the accident he is deemed to have adduced reasonable evidence of negligence and thereby discharged his burden of proof and a court may on the proof of the accident itself without any further evidence or proof of negligence, enter judgment for the plaintiff, if the defendant does not adduce any rebutting evidence. Therefore, the rule of res ipsa loquitur does not completely absolve the plaintiff from his liability to prove negligence.

5. But under this rule, if defendant can show a way in which the accident may have reasonably occurred without negligence on his part or on the part of those for whom he is responsible, then the plaintiff is left where he began, that is, he must prove negligence.


Res ipsa loquitur is an inappropriate form of circumstantial evidence enabling the plaintiff in certain cases to establish the defendant’s likely negligence. Hence the doctrine properly applied does not entail any convert form of strict liability. Generally, it is applied in cases of medical negligence where it cannot be ascertained as to which specific act of the hospital had caused the injury and where the situation is never outside the control of the hospital.

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