The general rule is that the onus of proving negligence is on the plaintiff. He must not merely establish the facts of the defendant’s negligence and of his own damage, but must show that the one was the effect of the other. A relevant factor in this connection is whether there was any contract between the parties.
In a case, where seamen were injured in a tanker explosion and failed in an action against the coastguard authority fro negligent inspection of the vessel. They produced neither evidence that they were aware of the inspection having taken place our evidence that there were any
alternative measures they could have taken.
Also Read Rule of Novus Actus Interveniens
Also Read Remoteness of Damages
In cases where there is no contract between the parties, the plaintiff must prove facts inconsistent with due negligence on the defendant’s part. Where the balance is even as to which part is in fault, the one who relies on the negligence of the other is bound to turn the scale.
In cases, however, there is a contract or personal undertaking the plaintiff must prove such contract or undertaking and also injury to himself. The mere fact of an injury happening, if unexplained, is evidence of negligence. It is for the defendant to prove that he himself was exercising due care.
It was laid down in K.C. Kumaran v. Vallabhdas Vasanji, that in a suit for damages for injuries caused by an accident the initial burden of making out at least a prima facie case of negligence against the defendant lies heavily on the plaintiff. Once this onus is discharged it will be for the defendant to prove that the incident was the result of inevitable accident or contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff.
Again, under certain circumstances the mere happening of an accident will afford prima facie evidence that it was the result of want of due care: Res Ipsa Loquitur (the thing speaks for itself). This is so when:
(1) the injurious agency was under the management or control of the defendant, and
(2) the accident is such, as the ordinary course of things, does not happen, if those who have the management use proper care.
Thus, in cases involving res ipsa loquitur there is a presumption of negligence and it is for the defendant to rebut it.
Exception to the Rule that the burden of proving negligence is on the plaintiff : To the general rule that in an action for negligence it is for the plaintiff to prove negligence on the part of the defendant, there are certain exceptions in which cases the onus is on the defendant, and it is for the defendant to prove that the loss or damage caused to the plaintiff was not due to his negligence. There are certain cases, where the mere fact of the injury or the accident is prima facie evidence of negligence. It is usual to refer such cases by the Latin phrase Res Ipsa Loquitur (the thing speaks for itself).