Summary of Donoghue v Stevenson

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Donoghue v Stevenson

Mrs Donoghue and a friend visited a café. Mrs Donoghue’s friend bought her a bottle of ginger beer. The bottle was made of opaque glass. When filling Mrs Donoghue’s glass the remains of a decomposed snail – which had somehow found its way into the bottle at
the factory – floated out. Mrs Donoghue developed gastroenteritis as a result.

Legal principle

Since Mrs Donoghue had not bought the bottle of ginger beer herself she could  not make a claim in contract upon breach of warranty. She therefore brought an action against the manufacturer of the ginger beer. The House of Lords had to decide whether a duty of care
existed as a matter of law.

The House of Lords held that the manufacturer owed her a duty to take care that the bottle did not contain foreign bodies which could cause her personal harm. This is known as the narrow rule in Donoghue v Stevenson – that a manufacturer of goods owes a duty of care to their ultimate consumer. More importantly, the case establishes the neighbor principle which determines whether
the defendant owes a duty of care in any situation. Lord Atkin stated: You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbor. Who, then, in law is my neighbor? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in my contemplation as being so affected when
I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.

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