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Table of Contents



1. Quotation

2. Introduction

3. The Case

4. The Role of the Court

5. The Court Process


6. Principles Laid Down In Donoghue V. Stevenson


7. A Case Similar To Donoghue Vs Stevenson


8. Conclusion


9. References



There is a moral law in this world which has

its application both to individuals and
organized bodies of men. You cannot go on
violating these laws in the name of your
nation, yet enjoy their advantage as
Rabindranath Tagore


The following is an analytical report which is based on the legal issues surrounding the popular
case of Donoghue vs. Stevenson (1392,HL). This case established the civil law tort of negligence
and obliged manufacturers to have a duty of care towards their customers. The events of this case
occurred in Scotland in 1928, when Ms. May Donoghue was given a bottle of ginger beer,
purchased by a friend. The bottle was later discovered to contain a decomposing snail. Since the
bottle was not of clear glass, Donoghue was not aware of the snail until she had consumed most
of its contents. She later fell ill and was diagnosed with gastroenteritis by a doctor. Donoghue
subsequently took legal action against the manufacturer of the ginger beer, Stevenson. She
lodged a writ in the Court of Sessions (Scotlands highest civil court) seeking 500 damages.
This case brings to the forefront several legal issues and principles which will be discussed in
Therefore the objective of this report will be to give the reader the a clear description of several

A definition of law and legal systems

The concept of Precedence
The major principles such as Love Thy Neighbour, Duty of Care and Negligence
A detailed description of the case Donoghue vs. Stevenson (1932)
Cases in which the Donoghue vs. Stevenson was used as precedent.



A.K.A The Snail and The Ginger Beer

Summary of Case
The case of Donoghue vs. Stevenson occurred in the year 1928 whereby it was customary for
women to meet in cafs to socialize. It was on a warm August evening in 1928, it was the
weekend of the annual Glasgow Trades Holiday when the working men and women of the city
were granted a brief vacation from their jobs. May Donoghue, a shop assistant, entered the
Wellmeadow caf in Paisley, Scotland. She was with a friend who ordered an ice cream and a
ginger beer; Mrs. Donoghue wanted to make an ice cream float. The waiter of the caf poured
some of the ginger beer into a glass containing the ice cream. Mrs. Donoghue drank some of the
float. Her friend poured out the remainder of the ginger beer. Along with the drink, it was then
the discovery of the dead snail was made . May Donoghue eventually claimed that she suffered
nervous shock and severe gastro-enteritis as a result of consuming the ice-cream float with a
rotten snail unexpectedly swimming in it. Mrs. Donoghue at that time was unable sue the caf
proprietor because her friend had ordered and paid for the drink.

Therefore Mrs. Donoghue had no contract with the caf because her friend had purchased the
drink, Donoghue could not sue on the basis that a contract had been breached; Mrs. Donoghues
only possible recourse was to tackle the one player remaining on the field, David Stevenson,
manufacturer of the ginger beer. Success for Mrs. Donoghue hung upon the single question:
whether the manufacturer of an article of drink sold by him to a distributor, in circumstances
which prevent the distributor or the ultimate purchaser or consumer from discovering by
inspection any defect, is under any legal duty to the ultimate purchaser or consumer to take
reasonable care that the article is free from defect likely to cause injury to health

Unfortunately for Mrs. Donoghue, in 1928 neither the Scottish civil law nor the English common
law as they were applied to the tort of negligence had yet progressed to the point of establishing
and stating as a matter of general principle, that geographically, a duty of care would be owed by
one person remote from another not to cause harm to that other person. Judges relied on
precedent, and the absence of a general statement of the law meant that it was difficult to
determine if a duty of care existed in a particular case unless a similar fact situation had been
ruled upon by the courts previously.

Her lawyers instead had to claim that Stevenson had a duty of care to his consumers and that he
had caused injury through negligence an area of civil law that was largely untested at that time.
Stevensons lawyers challenged the action on the basis that no precedents existed for such a
claim. They referred to an earlier action, Mullen v. AG Barr, where a dead mouse was found in a
bottle of soft drink; judges in this case dismissed it due to the lack of precedent. However
Donoghue was later granted leave to appeal to the House of Lords, which then had the judicial
authority to hear appellate cases.

The leading judgment, delivered by Lord Atkin in 1932, established that Stevenson should be
responsible for the well-being of individuals who consume his products, given that they could
not be inspected. The case was returned to the original court; Stevenson died before the case was
finalised and Donoghue was awarded a reduced amount of damages from his estate. She
however opted to sue the manufacturer of the ginger beer. She alleged that the manufacturer had
been negligent because its manufacturing processes had enabled the snail to enter the bottle and
had not detected the snail once it was there. The question whether Mrs. Donoghue had, any claim

against the manufacturer went from the Scottish Court of Session to the House of Lords. The
House of Lords decision later on made legal history.

The Wellmeadow Caf :

The caf occupied part of a tenement building probably constructed at the end of the eighteenth
or the beginning of the nineteenth century. In 1928 the proprietor of the Wellmeadow Caf was
Mr Francis Minghella.

The Claimant : May Donoghue

THE ULTIMATE CONSUMER: that is the actual user of a defective good and is
harmed by its defects. This person does not necessarily have to be the person who
purchased the product or service.

May Donoghue an ordinary working class woman what makes her legacy
extraordinary is she became the most famous litigant of all time (probably), although she
herself did not derive a fortune from her case. The case eventually settled for only 200, which
equates to about 7,000 today. The event that made her so celebrated took place in Paisley on 26
August 1928. May was born as May McAllister in Glasgow on 4 July 1898, and resided in that
city for her entire life. She married young and had four children, although only one, her son,
Henry, survived childhood. By the time of the fateful event she was already separated from her
husband, and by the time of the appeal cases she was using the name "McAlister". She died on
19 March 1958, when she was known as "Mabel Hannah", her mother's name. May Donoghue
was employed as a shop assistant, and resided at 49 Kent Street, off London Road, Glasgow.

The Defendant: David Stevenson- MANUFACTURER

The defender is an aerated-water manufacturer, and carries on business at Glen Lane,Paisley.
The business was founded by David Stevensons father (also David Stevenson).the company
manufactured lemonade and ginger beer.

Ginger Beer: - PRODUCT

Ginger beer is(typically)acarbonated soft drink which is flavoured with ginger, lemon and sugar.
The basic ingredients are water, sugar, ginger and, to produce fermentation, yeast culture.


According to Alix Adams English law can be defined as a body of rules created by the state,
binding within its jurisdiction and enforced with the authority of the state through the use of
sanctions. One of the main purpose of law is to promote the safety and regulate the relations with
each other. Diagram showing the two main types of legal systems.

Therefore, one can see that the court had a major role to play in the case of Donoghue vs
Stevenson (1932). See diagram below.
Diagram showing the legal impact of the case Donoghue vs Stevenson (1932)

Here just two ways in which the court makes laws:

1. Courts also make law by deciding disputes between two or more parties where there is no
statute (government-made) law that covers the entire situation. For example, courts decide
disputes about contracts, about wills and estates, about civil wrongs (or torts) done by one person
to another, and many other disputes. Each case that is decided by a court and approved by the
Court of Appeal in the province or ultimately by the Supreme Court becomes a precedent for the
next similar case that comes along. This judge-made law is called The Common Law.
2. All court-made decisions can be overruled, or changed by legislation enacted by government,
either by ordinary legislation or by a constitutional amendment.

The Court Process


Mrs. Donoghue sued Mr. Stevenson in April 1929, seven months after the events at the
Wellmeadow Caf; however a series of delayed proceeding for more than a year. In May 1930,
David Stevensons counsel brought a motion in the Scottish Court of Session before Lord
Moncrieffe, to strike out her claim on the grounds that he owned no duty of care to the plaintiff,
Donoghue.and ginger beer could hardly be described as dangerous. It was a solicitor called
Walter Leechman, who took up May's case. He had already brought two cases against another
drinks manufacturer, AG Barr, alleging a dead mouse had been found in a bottle of their ginger
beer. Leechman had lost both cases, but he went ahead and issued May Donoghue's writ against
David Stevenson, the manufacturer of the ginger beer. The case went all the way to the highest
court in the land. It was heard in the House of Lords on 10th December 1931, three years after
May allegedly discovered the snail.

Her counsels argument was based on the fact that a manufacturer who puts a product on the
market in a form that does not allow the consumer to examine it before using it, is liable for any
damage caused especially since May could not have examined her ginger beer before drinking it
because the bottle was dark and opaque. The debate and the subsequent decision of Lord
Moncrieff in favour of Mrs. Donoghue were on the point of law: Was there a duty of care owed,
Stevenson to Donoghue? This narrow question was set within the framework of the larger
objection that the claim contained in Mrs. Donoghue writ disclosed no cause of action. Lord
Mancrieff dismissed Mr. Stevensons motion.,.


'Love Thy Neighbour'

On 26th May 1932, Lord Atkin of Aberdovey who was on the panel heard the appeal ruled in
favour of May Donoghue and gave the leading judgment in the case which created history.
You must not injure your neighbour'; and the lawyer's question: 'Who is my neighbour?'
receives a restricted reply. "You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you
can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour." And with those words the
modern law of negligence was born. Lord Atkins judgment was based on the Christian
principle of 'loving thy neighbour', and the parable of the Good Samaritan. Still today that the is
applied to almost any relationship, in any circumstances. Among other areas, it covers personal
injury, product liability, professional negligence on the part of doctors, architects and even
lawyers themselves.

Lord Atkin defined your neighbour as persons who are so closely and directly affected by my
act that I ought to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind
to the acts or omissions which are called in question. However one should note that if the love
thy neighbour principle cannot be established then there will be no claim. This protects
defendants from liability when they cannot reasonably be expected to contemplate the acts or
omissions occurring. This case allows a claim to succeed even where there is no contractual
relationship between the parties. The law remains relevant to suppliers as it is not only people
they contract with that can claim against them. If any person can establish the neighbour
principle (duty of care), that the duty was breached, that the defendant caused the breach and the
claimant suffered harm then they are likely to be entitled to damages.


If there is a contract in place, that will be the easier way to claim, or use the Contracts (Rights of
Third Parties) Act 1999. Also, liability for death or personal injury may not be excluded by
English law due to the the Consumer Protection Act 1986, Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and,
for consumer contracts, the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts 1999.



This case established several legal principles:

Firstly, that negligence is a distinct tort. Failure to observe duty of care is negligence. A
plaintiff can take civil action against a respondent, if the respondents negligence causes
the plaintiff injury or loss of property. Previously the plaintiff had to demonstrate some
contractual arrangement for negligence to be proven, such as the sale of an item or an
agreement to provide a service. Since Donoghue had not purchased the drink, she could
prove no contractual arrangement with Stevenson yet Atkins judgement established
that Stevenson was still responsible for the integrity of his product.

In negligence, a person is only liable for harm that is the foreseeable consequence of their
actions, that is, failure to exercise reasonable care and skill. Negligence is the omission to
do something that a reasonable person would do or doing something which a prudent and
reasonable person would not do.
One may ask the question just want is TORT?
A tort suit enables the victim of some injury to make her problem someone else's problem. This
differs from a criminal case, which is initiated and managed by the state, a tort suit is prosecuted
by the victim or the victim's survivors. It should be noted that a successful tort suit results not in
a sentence of punishment but in a judgment of liability. Such a judgment normally requires the
defendant to compensate the plaintiff financially. In principle, an award of compensatory
damages shifts all of the plaintiff's legally cognizable costs to the rare occasions, a
plaintiff may also be awarded punitive damages, defined as damages in excess of compensatory


relief. In other cases, a plaintiff may obtain an injunction: a court order preventing the defendant
from injuring her or from invading one of her property rights (perhaps harmlessly).
The law does not recognize just any injury as the basis of a claim in tort. If you beat me in tennis
or in competition for the affections of another, I may well be injured. Yet I have no claim in tort
to repair my bruised ego or broken heart. Since you lack a legal duty not to beat me in tennis or
in competition for the affections of another, you do not act tortuously when you succeed at my
Tort distinguishes between two general classes of duties: (i) duties not to injure full stop and (ii)
duties not to injure negligently, recklessly, or intentionally. When you engage in an activity the
law regards as extremely hazardous (e.g., blasting with dynamite), you are subject to a duty of
the first sort a duty not to injure full stop. When you engage in an activity of ordinary
riskiness (e.g., driving), you are subject to a duty of the second sort a duty not to injure
negligently, recklessly, or intentionally. Your conduct is governed by strict liability when it flouts
a duty not to injure full stop. Your conduct is governed by fault liability when it flouts a duty
not to injure negligently, recklessly, or intentionally. The Donoghue V Stevenson was a case that
laid the foundation for the English tort law and the Scots law.
Once the Neighbour Principle was created it was applied in future cases in which the
material facts were similar. Grant v Australian Knitting Mills [1936]. Grant contracted
dermatitis from chemicals in woollen underwear and sued the manufacturer AKM. The
Australian court extended Donohue to include all manufacturers. Negligence has grown
into a huge body of common law covering, amongst others for example :


1. Doctors and their patients

2. Schools and their students
3. Councils and citizens

Secondly, manufacturers have a duty of care to consumers. The defendant owes the
plaintiff a duty of care if it is reasonably foreseeable that any carelessness on the part of
the defendant could harm the plaintiff. According to Lord Atkins ratio decendi, the
reason for the decision. This is the common lawa manufacturer of products, which he
sells to reach the ultimate consumer in the form in which they left him owes a duty
to the consumer to take reasonable care. This precedent has evolved and expanded to
form the basis of laws that protect consumers from contaminated or faulty goods. These
protections began as common law but many have since been codified in legislation, such
as the Trade Practices Act (Cwealth, 1974).
CASE: Grant v Australian Knitting Mills (1933)
CASE: Levi v Colgate-Palmolive Pty Ltd (1941)
A manufacturer does not owe a duty of care to every consumer (e.g. one with
abnormal sensitivities)
However, there may be special circumstances that give rise to a duty to take
special precautions to protect abnormal persons known to be likely to be affected


Thirdly, Lord Atkins controversial neighbour principle. Here Atkin raised the question
of which people may be directly affected by our actions, our conduct or things we
manufacture. You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can
reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who, then, in law, is my
neighbour? The answer seems to be: persons who are so closely and directly affected by
my act that I ought to have them in [mind] when I am I am [considering these] acts or



The concept of precedent

When deciding a case, English judges are bound to apply any relevant precedent or previous
decision of a senior court (A. Adams, 2009). In common law legal systems, a precedent or
authority is a legal case establishing a principle or rule that a court or other judicial body may
utilize when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts. A case closely related to the
Donoghue v Stevenson case. In Grant v Australian Knitting Mills Ltd case, Dr. Grant, the
plaintiff had bought an undergarment from a retailer. The undergarment is manufactured by the
defendant, Australian Knitting Mills Ltd. Dr. Grant was contracted dermatitis.
The undergarment was in a defective condition owing to the presence of excess of sulphite. It
was found that the manufacturer had been negligently left in it in the process of manufacture. In
this case, the buyer sued the retailer in contract and the manufacturer in tort. The Privy Council
held that the defendants were liable to the plaintiff although there is no privity between Dr.
Grant and the manufacturer. The decision of this case is bound to the Donoghue v Stevenson case
since there are similar cases. In 2010, Mr. Justice Peter, a higher court judge sitting alone in
deciding a case which has similar material facts to one decided by the Court of Appeal in 2009.
Based on the explanation of doctrine of judicial precedent and the example of cases above,
therefore, he is bound to the decision made by the Court of Appeal.


The case of Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 is very important, as it set a major precedent - the legal
concept of duty of care. From the analysis it was clearly stated that in the 1932 case, the judge,
Lord Aitken, defined the "neighbour" principle. Lord Aitken stated that a "neighbour was anyone
who is so closely and directly affected by my act, or failure to act, that I ought reasonably to have
them in my contemplation". As business student teachers what all of us now have to take from
this case is that as we go about our work, our leisure and our life in general, we must think about
the safety of people around us (our neighbours). We cannot simply provide goods or services
with no regard to the safety of all customers. We cannot perform work duties without concern for
our fellow workers or our clients. We cannot leave uncovered holes in the footpath, or fail to shut
gates where animals are restrained, or leave hazardous chemicals lying around.
If we don't do the right thing, then we will be accused of exhibiting conduct that is below the
level deemed to appropriate for responsible members of the community. In other words we are
being irresponsible, and if someone gets hurt as a result, then it is our fault. In this case
Donoghue drank a bottle of Ginger Beer manufactured by Stevenson. Having drunk some of the
contents of the bottle, she claimed that the remnants of a decomposing snail plopped out into her
glass. Donoghue then contracted gastroenteritis and sued Stevenson.
As a result of this case, the legal principle of Duty of Care was formed. All manufacturers of
products bear responsibility for any damage that their products cause, even if the the sufferer did
not buy the product themselves (e.g. it might have been a present). Furthermore this principle
extends not only to manufactured products but also services. There are a number of organisations
which provides services and must ensure that such services are safe for all the participants.



Donoghue V. Stevenson (1932) AC 562 page 580

A. Adams, 2009. Law for Business Students 6th Edition , Pearson