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Donoghue v. Stevenson


Donoghue v. Stevenson [1932] All ER Rep 1; [1932] AC 562; House of Lords

Negligence, Whether duty owed to person injured. Duty of manufacturer of article to ultimate consumer. Bottle of ginger beer bought from retailer. Bottle containing dead snail. Purchaser poisoned by drinking contents. Liability of manufacturer to consumer.

The common law duty of care; the ‘neighbour principle’


On 9th April 1929 Mrs Mary M'Alister or Donoghue brought an action against David Stevenson aerated water manufacturer Paisley, in which she claimed £500 as damages for injuries sustained by her through drinking ginger beer which had been manufactured by the defender.

Mrs. Donoghue and her friend went to a shop occupied by Francis Minchella, and known as Wellmeadow Café, at Wellmeadow Place, Paisley where the friend purchased ice cream, and ginger beer suitable to be used with the ice cream as an iced drink. for Mrs. Donoghue to drink. Mrs. Donoghue had no direct or indirect claim against the manufacturer based on contractual obligations because she did not purchase the product. The ginger beer was contained in an opaque bottle that prevented the contents from being viewed clearly. Mrs. Donoghue consumed some of the product after which the decomposed remains of a snail emerged from the bottle when the remaining ginger beer was poured into her glass. She sought damages against the manufacturer, Stevenson, from the resulting nervous shock and gastro-enteritis, which she claimed was caused through the incident. The trial judge found that the plaintiff could bring an action. The Court of Appeal overturned this decision.
The plaintiff appealed to the House of Lords.

The Decision

The issue of law before the House of Lords was whether the defendant (Stevenson) owed Mrs. Donoghue a duty of care. The case was never tried on the facts.
Dicta of Lord Atkin: ". The complainant has to show that he has been injured by the breach of duty owed to him in the circumstances by the defendant to take reasonable care to avoid such injury". The rule in Heaven v. Pender was "demonstrably too wide." The concept of negligence is based upon "a sentiment of moral wrongdoing (for) which the offender must pay." Not every moral wrong can have a practical effect in law so it must be limited to taking "...reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour." A neighbour is a person so closely connected with and directly affected by (proximate to) my act (or omission) that I should have had them in mind when I committed the act (or omission). It would be a grave defect in the law if a consumer could not claim in circumstances such as a manufacturer negligently mixing poison into a drink.
Lord Buckmaster referring to the dicta of Brett MR in Heaven v. Pender and the decision in George v. Skivington (1867) LR5 Ex 1 (which were applied by Lord Atkin): ". It is in my opinion better that they should be buried so securely that their perturbed spirits shall no longer vex the law."
You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour/another.


Lord Atkin's statement
Lord Atkin's statement about the foreseeability of the effects of one's acts on one's neighbours is central to the existence of a duty of care in the law of tort/delict, especially on the then developing nascent tort/delict of negligence. In this judgement he formulates what is commonly known as the "neighbour principle".

There must be, and is, some general conception of relations giving rise to a duty of care, of which the particular cases found in the books are but instances. ... The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law 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. 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 reasonably to have them in contemplation as long as so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions that are called in question.

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