Donoghue v Stevenson

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Citation: [1932] AC 562 This information can be found in the Textbook: Sappideen, Vines, Grant & Watson, Torts: Commentary and Materials (Lawbook Co, 10th ed, 2009), pp. 161-3

Contents

Background facts

  • The Plaintiff (Donoghue) received a ginger beer bottle bought for her by a friend from a cafe.
  • She drank some of it, and found out that there are remains of a decomposed snail in it.
  • She suffered great mental shock and severe gastro--enteritis.
  • The drink was manufactured by the Defendant (Stevenson).

Legal issues

Argument

  • Plaintiff argued
    • The ginger beer was manufactured by the defendant to be sold to the public.
    • It was the duty of the defendant to
      • Ensure that no snails got into bottles
      • Inspect that there was nothing in the bottles when the ginger beer was poured in and the bottle then sealed
    • The defendant failed in both of these duties
  • Defendant argued
    • The argument raised by the plaintiff is irrelevant and insufficient to support the conclusion reached by her summons due to the fact that it doesn’t fit into any of the recognised categories for liability (i.e. there was no contract between them)

Judgment

Majority opinion:

  • Previously, it has been thought that the doctrine of Privity excludes the Plaintiff, who had no contract with the Defendant itself, from making a claim against the Defendant. The Defendant cannot owe the Plaintiff a duty of care since they did not have a contract.
  • However, Le Lievre v Gould established that "under certain circumstances, one man may owe a duty of care to another, even though there is no contract between them[1]."
  • "...in english law there must be, and is, some general conception of relations giving rise to a duty of care[2]."
  • Negligence is based upon someone doing wrong to another. But obviously this needs to be limited by rules of law.
    • "The liability for negligence...is no doubt based upon a general public sentiment of moral wrongdoing for which the offedner must pay. But acts or omissions which any moral code would censure cannot in a practical world be treated as to give a right to every person injured by them to demand relief. In this way rules of law arise which limit the range of complainants and the extent of their remedy[3]."
  • This is where duty of care comes in. Negligence claims can be brought against people who owe you a duty of care.
    • "You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour[4]."
  • Duty of care is owed towards:
    • "Who, then, in law is my neighbour?...Persons who are closely and directly affected by my act that i ought reasonably 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[5]."
  • This is reinforced in the decision of Heaven v Pender which was founded on the principle "that a duty to take care did arise when the person or property of one was in such proximity to the person or property of another that, if due care was not taken, damage might be done by the one to th other[6]."
  • In the supply of goods, it is limited to situation where it is both obvious that the goods will be "used immediately" or "used at once before a reasonable opportunity of inspection", and also, where the nature of the goods means that they will probably cause harm if they are in bad condition.[7]."
  • Puts forward the scenario of a manufacturer negligently putting poison into a bottle of beer. Surely the the poisoned consumer deserves a remedy.
  • Thus, a manufacturer has a duty of care to the ultimate consumer if neither the consumer or the distributors he received the product from had a reasonable chance to inspect it.

Dissenting opinion:

  • Lord Buckmaster argued that the precedent of Winterbottom v Wright should govern this case and no duty of care existed between parties which do not have a contract.
  • He was afraid that extending the duty of care to third parties would open the floodgates. Howeve this was restricted by mechanisms such as Remoteness and Causation.

References

  1. [1893] 1 QP 491, 497
  2. [1932] AC 562, 580
  3. [1932] AC 562, 580
  4. [1932] AC 562, 580
  5. [1932] AC 562, 580
  6. (1883) 11 QBD 503, 509
  7. [1932] AC 562, 581
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