The term “Negligence” is derived from the Latin word “Negligentia” which denotes carelessness, heedlessness, or neglect. Negligence refers to the breach of a legal duty that the defendant owes to the plaintiff caused by an omission to do something that a reasonable or prudent person would ordinarily do. In other words, Negligence refers to an omission to withstand a standard of behavior established to protect society from unreasonable risks. The term “Negligence” is used to hold liability under civil law as well criminal law.
To fix the liability of the defendant under the tort of Negligence to claim compensation for the damages suffered, the plaintiff needs to manifest the following essentials in the court of law:
- There must be a duty of care owed to the plaintiff
- The aforementioned duty owed must be breached
- Due to the breach of the aforementioned duty owed plaintiff must have sustained some sort of damage.
As per general rule, the onus to prove that the defendant is negligent entirely lies on the plaintiff meaning that the initial burden of proving the negligence of the defendant lies on the plaintiff. But if this onus is discharged, then the defendant has to prove in front of the court of law that the incident wasa result of an inevitable accident or contributory negligence on part of the plaintiff. This particular situation employs the use of the doctrine “Res Ipsa Loquitur.”
RES IPSA LOQUITUR
The maxim “Res Ipsa Loquitur” means “the thing speaks for itself.” “It is a maxim of evidentiary potency and consequence, and serves to imply or raise a presumption of negligence as a fact when from the physical facts or situations attending the accident or injury, there is a reasonable probability that it would not have happened if the party having control, management, or supervision, or with whom rests the responsibility for the sound and safe condition of the thing, property, or appliance which is a proximate cause of the accident or injury, had done something differently.” The first evident use of this maxim in common law was in the case of Byrne v. Boadle. To apply the doctrine of “Res Ipsa Loquitur”, the plaintiff has the obligation of proving prerequisite three conditions. The accident or injury must of a kind that ordinarily cannot occur in absence of someone’s negligence, there must bea reasonable intervention that the defendant is blameworthy for negligence which ultimately leads to injuries, and there should be no voluntary conduct or action on the part of the plaintiff”. The maxim “Res Ipsa Loquitur” is applied where there is only one inference from the present facts that the accident could not have occurred but for defendant’s negligence. The “Res Ipsa Loquitur” rule simply shifts the burden of proof so that the defendant is now required to refute the negligence claim made against him rather than the plaintiff showing the defendant’s negligence. The defendant can avoid culpability if he is successful in demonstrating in court that what initially appears to be negligence was caused by the occurrence of some other variables that were out of his control.
CASE LAWS CONCERNING RES IPSA LOQUITUR
- Case Summary
The plaintiff, who operated the firm Modern Cultivators, sued the State of Punjab as the defendant to claim costs for crops that were damaged by floods in the plaintiff’s field as a consequence of a canal breakdown caused by the State. The plaintiff alleged that there was a breakdown in the western bank of the canal caused by the defendant’s negligence, which eventually resulted in canal water leaking into the plaintiff’s field and creating flooding. According to the Government of Punjab’s reasoning, the rupture occurred at first hand but was quickly repaired, and the plaintiff’s fields were flooded not by canal water but by a severe downpour.
The trial Judge passed an order against the Government of Punjab with compensation, but it was lessened by the High Court. The High Court noted that the engulfment of the fields was due to the water of the canal not by Nallahs. Both parties filed cross-appeals by special leave in the Supreme Court of India.Mr. Sarkar held that the rule of “Res Ipsa Loquitur” can be duly applied here as there would not have been any breach in the banks of the canal if there was reasonable care as well as management was undertaken. Therefore, the breach will be considered prima facie proof of negligence.
The Bench comprised of Mr. Sarkar and Mr. A.K.(A) Mr. Sarkar and Mr. Hidayatullah’s arguments were on the same lines they both contended that the contention of The State of Punjab regarding not proving of defendant’s negligence by the plaintiff is completely void as it seems that the documents called by the trial court were not produced deliberately. Moreover, taking the case of “Murugesan Pillai v. Manickavasaka Pandara”as a precedence, where it was asserted before the court that the required documents that needed to be produced have been destroyed. It was inferred by interpreting the statement of canal officers called before the High Court that the documents were not produced by the defendant intentionally and therefore the fact the defendant was negligent could be established.
Mr. Sarkar further ruled taking the case of “Scott v. London Dock Co.” as a precedence, that the rule of “Res Ipsa Loquitur” could explicitly apply to this case as the canal was admittedly in the management of the defendant and no breach of canal banks would have occurred if proper care and management was undertaken.
- Case Summary
Three plaintiffs, in this case, are the widow and two sons of the late Thirunavakkarasu. The deceased, who owned a farm and a farmhouse in Sernmedu Village in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, passed away on October 20, 1978. The farm was covered in high-tension cables that were about 440 watts in size. On October 20, 1978, at around 7.45 p.m., the deceased was in the farmhouse and heard a weird cry emerging from the bulls pulling the bullock cart. He quickly left his farmhouse after hearing this to inspect. Unfortunately, as he was moving closer, he stepped on a high-tension wire that had fallen over the fields and was instantly electrocuted to death.There were two defendants: the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board and Pykara Electricity System. They claimed that the high-tension wire snapped because of a torrential downpour, thunder, and strong winds. They argued that it qualified as an Act of God or a Force Majeure, thus they weren’t at fault.
The court contended that overhead high-tension wires are highly minacious and can cause far-reaching consequences if any animal or human being comes in contact with it. The electricity board should take the necessary care and precautions when installing them to prevent them from breaking and falling.If such an incident occurs, then a direct inference can be drawn that there has been heedlessness, carelessness, or negligence on the part of the Electricity Board. The Electricity Board has an obligation of rendering the live wire running over a street, or public place powerless in case it snaps and fall downs under Rule 91 of the Indian Electricity Rules, 1956. The fact that the overhead high-tension wire that snapped and fell on the fields of the deceased continued to be alive ultimately reflects negligence on the part of the Electricity Board as they did not undertake necessary precautionary step needed in these circumstances.
Additionally, the Electricity Board did not take the simple precaution of periodically inspecting lines. In the opinion of the court, the “Res Ipsa Loquitur” rule applies in the aforementioned case given the circumstantial as well as relevant facts.
“Res Ipsa Loquitur” is a maxim that stands for “Thing speaks for itself.”It shifts the onus or responsibility from the plaintiff to the defendant on proving that the defendant was not negligent, if he fails to satisfy the court regarding the same then the defendant is held liable for negligence and is made to compensate or reimburse the plaintiff for the damages or injuries caused owing to misconductfrom the side of the defendant. The rule of “Res Ipsa Loquitur” applies where the defendant is solely responsible for the conditions which eventually were the cause of the accident. Before the application of this rule, it must be inspected whether the defendant had sole control over the conditions that were responsible for the accident. It must also be confirmed that the plaintiff himself did not contribute to the cause directly responsible for the accident. Further, it needs to be established that the incident was of the type which generally would not have happened without negligence.
Author(s) Name: Aditya Bashambu (National Law University Odisha)