Byrne v. Boadle – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Byrne v. Boadle, 2 H. & C. 722, 159 Eng. Rep. 299 (Exch. 1863).

Facts

Byrne (P) was struck by a barrel falling from a window as he walked past Boadle’s (D) flour shop and sustained serious personal injuries. A witness testified that he saw the barrel fall from Boadle’s window but had not seen the cause. Byrne did not present any other evidence of negligence by Boadle or his employees.

Boadle moved for a nonsuit on the grounds that Byrne had presented no evidence of negligence. The court granted the motion and plaintiff obtained a rule nisi. The Court of Exchequer found in favor of Byrne and reversed. Boadle appealed.

Issue

  • Can liability for negligence lie solely on account of the type of accident that occurred, without direct evidence of negligence?

Holding and Rule

  • Yes. Liability for negligence can lie solely on account of the type of accident that occurred, without direct evidence of negligence.

Pollock

A presumption of negligence can arise from an accident. A party need not present direct evidence of negligence when the mere manner and facts of the accident show that it could not have happened without negligence on someone’s part.

A barrel could not roll out of a warehouse window without negligence. This is an example of a case in which res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”) applies. It is evident that the barrel was in the custody of Boadle and its falling is prima facie evidence of negligence. A plaintiff who is injured in a such a fashion should not be required to show that the barrel could not fall without negligence. A rebuttable presumption is created that Boadle was negligent and he has the burden to prove that he was not.

Channel:

Boadle had a duty to ensure that those passing by his shop are not injured by objects under his control. In this case there was a scintilla of evidence with respect to negligence. The defendant failed to show that he was not negligent and Byrne is entitled to the verdict.

Disposition

Judgment for Byrne affirmed.

Notes

The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur cannot be applied when there is direct evidence of the cause of the injury and facts and circumstances surrounding it.

To apply res ipsa loquitur, the following elements must be present:

  1. The accident must be of a type that normally would not occur in the absence of negligence.
  2. There was no contribution to the plaintiff’s injuries by the plaintiff or any third party.
  3. The source of the negligence falls within the scope of the duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. This usually (but not necessarily) arises where the instrument causing the injury was within the exclusive control of the defendant, or where there is an inability to identity the specific source of harm. Frequently it arises where the source of negligence lies within a group of people who are unwilling or unable to divulge the actual source.

The plaintiff must still prove all of the other elements to prove that the defendant was liable (i.e. proximate cause etc.)

Note that the theory of the negligence in Summers v. Tice is similar to the concept of res ipsa loquitur. In that case the plaintiff was shot and injured by one of two other hunters. While it was certain that one of the two men caused the harm, the plaintiff could offer no proof showing which defendant was at fault. The court shifted the burden of proof to the defendants to prove their innocence.


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