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Facts[]

On the 26 August, 1928, May Donoghue and a friend were at a café in Glasgow (Scotland). Donoghue's companion ordered and paid for her drink. The cafe purchased the product from a distributor that purchased it from Stevenson. The ginger beer came in a dark bottle, and the contents were not visible from the outside. Donoghue drank some of the contents and her friend lifted the bottle to pour the remainder of the ginger beer into the tumbler. The remains of a snail in a state of decomposition dropped out of the bottle into the tumbler. She was unsuccessful at trial and appealed the decision to the House of Lords. Finally, her claim was successful.

Issue[]

  1. Does the defendant owe a duty of care to the plaintiff being as there is no contractual term ?

Decision[]

Appeal allowed.

Ratio[]

Prior to this case, common law courts were hesitant to extend obligations onto people who did not agree to them. The general belief was that the legislative branch should choose where to create non-consensual obligations. Under these rules, Donoghue would have been unable to sue Stevenson because her companion was the one who entered into the contractual relationship, and even this was with the store and not the manufacturer.

The majority said that this would be an unjust result. The court believed that these rules would allow companies and individuals to negligently harm people through their products in cases where they act through a middleman, like many manufacturers do. Consequently, the majority recognized negligence as a tort (harm) that people could sue for in cases where they were owed a duty of care.

The court also found that manufacturers owe the final consumer of their product a duty of care (at least in the instance where the goods cannot be inspected between manufacturing and consumption). There need not be a contractual relationship, or privity, in order for the final consumer to sue in negligence. It is the responsibility of the producer and not the fault of consumer.

More generally, the court also recognized the (then) controversial "neighbour principle,” which said that you owed a duty of care to your "neighbours." A neighbour is anyone who would be so closely and directly affected by your actions that you should have them in mind when making decisions.

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