Donoghue v. Stevenson (1932) is an important English Case law that is said to have laid the foundation for shaping the law of torts. Donoghue v. Stevenson is an important case law in fields of duty of care and negligence. This case is often referred to as “snail in the bottle case”. This case was the key for establishing the manufacturer's duty on its consumers that is the duty of care of the manufacturer. This case also propounded a neighbour principle. In this principle Lord Atkin stated that one should refrain from doing actions that can result in damage or is likely to result in injury to your neighbour. He answers the question who a neighbour is by saying that those are people, who are directly affected by the act or omission.
On August 26th of 1928 one gentleman named Minchella purchased a ginger beer from a café in Scotland for Ms May Donoghue who is the plaintiff of this case. Even though the beer was bought from a restaurant the manufacturer of the beer was Mr Stevenson. Therefore, the case was filed against the manufacturer. There was no reason to suspect that there was something inside the beer as the packaging of that ginger beer was such that the inside of the beer bottle was not visible, the glass was dark and opaque. While consuming the beer it was poured into a tumbler where the remnants of a decomposed snail was found in the beer. The unpleasant sight and act caused the plaintiff mental agony and gas trouble. This was first filed in Scotland’s sessions court and an appeal was moved to the House of Lords.
The issues raised in this case were, the ginger beer's manufacturer aware of the flaw that rendered the beverage unsafe for consumption and if it had been deceptively hidden from customers?
Whether the product can be deemed harmful in and of itself, and did the maker fail to notify the user of this?
Given that the complainant and the manufacturer did not enter into a contract, may a negligence claim be brought against them?
Even though the case was in Scotland the assistance of English laws was used in delivering the judgement. Most of the precedents that were applicable to this case at that time had judgments in contrast to this case. That is establishing a duty of care without any contractual relationship.
George v. Skivington (1869), was an exception as in this case it was held that a manufacture should exert reasonable care while making products that are available for human consumption, in the absence of reasonable care by manufactures they can be held liable for damages even in the absence of contractual relationship and that victims can sue for damages. Heaven v. Pender (1883) and Dominion Natural Gas v. Collins and Perkins (1909) were the other cases cited by the appellants.
Appellants- The Appellants claimed that as a manufacturer the respondent had a duty to make sure no snails entered their packaged product, there were many ways in confirming so, one being inspecting bottles before tight packaging. In the absence of doing so and resulting in damage to the public including the appellant by packaging the product with a snail and by not providing a chance to consumers in seeing the inside of the bottle, the respondent has completely ignored the duty of care it had towards its consumers.
The principle of Res Ipsa Loquitur was argued to be applicable here as the snail in the bottle showcased the negligence by the manufacturer. Therefore, it spoke for itself i.e., the negligence by manufactures.
Respondent- The respondents argued that the injury claimed to have happened were of existing health conditions and were exaggerated by the appellants. Therefore, the allegations were made-up and irrelevant to constitute a suite. The respondents tried to prove that the appellants had no legal basis to ask for the given claim by citing the precedents, Mullen v. AG Barr & Co Ltd. (1929) the facts of this case was similar to the present case but instead of snail it was a mouse. The respondents also cited Winterbottom v. Wright (1842) and Blacker v. Lake & Elliot, Ld (1912)
The case was decided in a 3-2 majority that there was a duty of care owned by the manufacturers towards its customers. The judgement was in favour of the appellants Mrs Donoghue. The responsibility mentioned could only occur if there was no means to conduct an intermediate examination of the product and the harm was a direct result of the breach of duty. It was also held that the manufacturer owed the appellant a general duty of care to safeguard the integrity of the stated product even though there was no contractual obligation to do so. Few legal principles were established in the judgement including that of negligence, Duty of care and the neighbour principle.
Donoghue v. Stevenson otherwise known as snail in the bottle case was a landmark case in the field of law of torts, especially in negligence and duty of care. This case can be referred to as a stepping stone for establishing the law of negligence in England. And helped in setting up many precedents and legal principles.
This article is written by Ivan Saleem of Christ University.