Legal quote

I recall a quote from, I believe, a Supreme Court justice describing the doctrine of res ipse loquitur and explaining that in some tort cases it is unnecessary to show negligence because it is obvious. “The Thing Itself Speaks” (Res Ipse Loquitur).

The quote went something like,“Some cases of negligence are quite clear. When one finds a trout in a bottle of milk, someone has been very negligent.”

So who said it, and what was the exact quote?

I don’t know the quote but the infamous comparable incident in tort law was of a snail in a bottle of ginger beer. That incident was the foundation of the case of Donoghue v Stevenson, on which modern UK tort law was founded, but it isn’t really a famous example of *res ipsa *as such.

I thought the quote was “Circumstantial evidence is occasionally very convincing, as when you find a trout in the milk”, and I believe it was Thoreau.

I first encountered the quote in some Sherlock Holmes story or other, and it was years before I figured out what it meant.


Here’s a further explanation: Owning Up, Trout in Milk & Other Musings. Excerpt:

And knowing now what it means, I’ve been searching through Thoreau’s writings to find some more context for the quote, and I’m coming up empty. It’s usually attributed as an entry from November 11, 1850, or November 11, 1854, but as far as I can tell, neither date says anything about milk or trout. Anyone else up for some searching?

I found this, but it’s a barrel of flour:

Baron Pollock (judge I assume?) said the following:

Thank you, everyone. Thoreau,eh? I think I must have read a decision in which the justice quoted Thoreau, as I can recall him saying as a tag line, “…then it seems someone has been very negligent.”