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The landmark judgement of Donoghue v Stevenson had a crucial role in laying down the foundation of the concept of ‘negligence’ and is widely referred to while determining the duty of care in negligence. It is also popularly known by the name of ‘Snail in the Bottle’ case.
Date of decision: 26 May 1932
Citation:  UKHL 100,  SC (HL) 31,  AC 562
Bench: Lord Buckmaster, Lord Atkin, Lord Tomlin, Lord Thankerton, Lord Macmillan
On August 26 1928, Mrs Donoghue went to Wellmeadow Café1 in Paisley where her friend bought her a ginger beer which was contained in an opaque glass bottle with a label of manufacturer’s address and name as ‘D. Stevenson, Glen Lane, Paisley’. Mrs Donoghue consumed about half of the bottle and poured the remainder into a tumbler. She noticed a decomposed snail floating over the content poured in the tumbler which caused her shock and subsequent illness.
Mrs Donoghue tried to claim damages through the allegation of breach of warranty, however, she failed as she was not a party to the contract. Hence, she approached the House of Lords and sued under negligence and the general principle of duty of care.
- Whether the defendant owed a duty of care to Mrs Donoghue despite no contractual contract?
- Was the relationship between manufacture and consumer sufficiently close enough that he owed a duty of care to the consumer?
The House of Lords decided in favour of Mrs Donoghue with a 3:2 majority. Lord Buckmaster and Lord Tomlin dismissed the appeal and decided in favour of the defendant Mr Stevenson and held that the defendant owed no duty of care to the plaintiff.
It was held that manufacturers though having no direct contact with the customers, do owe a duty of care, especially in the events when the good or commodity cannot be inspected between the manufacturing and consumption stage. The consumer can sue the manufacture for negligence without any actual contract between him and the manufacturer.
This case has further led to the development of the neighbour principal. According to the law, a person must not injure or harm his neighbour. But the question arises who is known to be a neighbour? It was then answered that any person who can be directly affected by one’s act is a neighbour and the person must not injure his neighbour by acts of negligence. In this case, Mrs Donoghue had established that she had a legal cause of action and thus the manufacturer owed a duty of care.
To read the full judgement in detail, click here.