Proof of Negligence-How to Prove Negligence in Irish Civil Law


negligence law ireland

If you bring an action for negligence in Ireland, you must prove the defendant was negligent.

The standard of proof is on the balance of probabilities, which is the standard of proof in civil law cases. (The standard of proof in criminal cases is beyond a reasonable doubt).

Essentially, you must establish facts from which negligence can be inferred.

This does not mean you must prove or show how the accident occurred; simply because an event was not foreseen does not mean it cannot be reasonably inferred.

But you must show on the balance of probabilities that the defendant was guilty of negligent conduct which caused the accident.

There is also a principle in the law dealing with negligence-res ipsa loquitur.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Res ipsa loquitur means “the thing speaks for itself”. There are some cases, where the thing speaks for itself and where there may be no other evidence to prove negligence.

But a presumption of negligence can arise from the fact of an accident. An example would be the case from which this phrase emanates-it involved a barrel of flour falling out the first floor window of a shop and hitting the plaintiff on the head.

The defendant shopowner claimed that there was no evidence of negligence, unless the act itself was evidence of negligence. The Court of Appeal in this case recognised that res ipsa loquitur was appropriate in some cases, and this was one of them.

When will this principle apply?

  1. When “the thing” is under the control of the defendant
  2. When the accident would not have occurred if the defendant who controlled “the thing” used reasonable care

This principle will not apply when there is an explanation of how the accident or event occurred.

If the principle applies in your case it will be up to the defendant to avoid liability by showing that the cause of the accident cannot be attributed to his negligence.

The Supreme Court decision in Hanrahan v Merck Sharp & Dohme (Ireland) limited held:

“in the tort of negligence, where damage has been caused to the plaintiff in circumstances in which such damage would not usually be caused without negligence on the part of the defendant, the rule of res ipsa loquitur will allow the act relied on to be evidence of negligence in the absence of proof by the defendant that it occurred without want of due care on his part”.


Assuming your case has the four essential elements of the tort of negligence you will still need to prove negligence to win your case.

Negligence-An Essential Element of a Successful Personal Injury Claim


If you have suffered a personal injury, the question of “negligence” is an important one. This piece will explain what negligence is.

Legal actions in Ireland, such as medical negligence or personal injuries actions, are pursued on the basis of negligence which is a tort (a civil wrong).

There are four elements to the tort of negligence:

  1. The wrongdoer had a duty of care to the person who suffered loss or damage-you don’t owe a duty of care to everyone. However, you do owe a duty to those who are proximate, and where the danger is reasonably forseeable;
  2. The defendant failed to conform to the required standard in his/her behaviour/conduct. The required standard is that of the ‘reasonable person’ and Courts will address the question: did the defendant act as a reasonable person would?
  3. Did the plaintiff/victim suffer actual loss or damage? And was the damage or loss forseeable? This is the general principle of “remoteness” of damage.
  4. Was there a sufficiently close connection between the conduct of the defendant and the loss suffered by the plaintiff? This is the idea of “causation”.

Each of these elements must be present to successfully sue for negligence. And each of them has been well canvassed in various Courts in common law jurisdictions around the world.

For example, if a Court decides that a person had indeed a duty of care to the person who suffered loss or damage, it will then turn to the question of the standard of care.

In assessing this aspect of a negligence claim, Courts will look to

  • The seriousness of the threatened injury
  • The likelihood of an  accident
  • The social usefulness of the conduct complained of
  • The cost of eliminating the risk.

The third element above-actual loss suffered-must be proven as negligence on its own is not actually actionable. The general principle of ‘remoteness’ of damage is important here; this means that the loss should have been reasonably foreseeable.

The fourth element above is concerned with a sufficiently close causal relationship between the conduct complained of and the resulting damage.

There are two further aspects of negligence claims which must be considered before bringing any legal proceedings:

1. Assumption of risk

The Civil Liability Act, 1961, section 34(1)(b):

this subsection shall not operate to defeat any defence arising under a contract or the defence that the plaintiff before the act complained of agreed to waive his legal rights in respect of it, whether or not for value; but, subject as aforesaid, the provisions of this subsection shall apply notwithstanding that the defendant might, apart from this subsection, have the defence of voluntary assumption of risk;

This means that if the defendant can show that the plaintiff agreed to waive his/her legal rights before the act complained of, the action will be dismissed.

2. Contributory Negligence

This arises where the ‘victim’ was in some way responsible for the loss/damage suffered. The plaintiff’s compensation, if the claim is successful, will be reduced in proportion to the amount in respect of his/her own fault.

If you have suffered as a result of the negligent conduct of another, contact a solicitor.