Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Donoghue v. Stevenson- Case Analysis by Vedant Karia at LexCliq

 Donoghue v. Stevenson- Case Analysis by Vedant Karia at LexCliq


A ginger beer bottle was purchased by Mr Minchella on the 26th of August, 1928, from the Wellmeadow Cafe in Paisley (Scotland) for his friend, Mrs Donoghue, the appellant. As a result, there was no reason to believe that the ginger beer bottle contained anything other than ginger beer because it was made of black opaque glass in the first place.

When the remaining ginger beer was put into a tumbler after about half of the contents of the bottle had been consumed, the dead and decayed remains of a snail drifted into the glass, indicating that it had been consumed. The sickening sight, along with the consequences of consuming the pollutants in the bottle, caused the appellant to go into shock and suffer from acute gastro-enteritis.

The case was initially filed in the Second Division of the Sessions Court of Scotland, where an interlocutor was appointed by the Lord Ordinary for the purpose of proving the petitioner's good cause of action after it was determined that the petitioner had a good cause of action. However, a new interlocutor was issued by the majority of the court, recalling the prior interlocutor, and the suit was dismissed. An appeal was then lodged in the House of Lords, which was successful.


The following issues were raised in this case:

  1. Was the manufacturer of the ginger beer aware of the defect in the product that made it unfit to consume and was it fraudulently concealed from the consumer?

  2. Could the product be classified as dangerous per se and was there a failure on part of the manufacturer to warn the consumer of the same?

  3. Would an action of negligence be applicable in light of the fact that there was no contract formed between the plaintiff and the manufacturer?



The respondent made and sold the ginger beer bottle to the public for consumption—the bottle featured the respondent's company's labelling, and the respondent employed metal caps to seal the bottles.

As producers, the respondent should have verified that: 

1. A method was in place to prevent snails from getting into their packaged products.

2. An effective inspection system was in place to undertake checks prior to the bottles being sealed.

As per the appellants, the respondents breached both of these responsibilities, resulting in this accident. Given that the respondent invited the public (including the appellant) to consume a product they manufactured, bottled, labelled, and sealed and provided no opportunity for the consumer to inspect the contents, they owed an obligation to the appellant to ensure that nothing in the bottle would cause harm to such a consumer.

Additionally, the appellants maintained that the res ipsa loquitur concept applied in this instance. The presence of a snail in the bottle'spoke for itself' regarding the producers' incompetence.

Finally, the appellants contended that the general principle's exceptions were overly restrictive and constrained.




The respondents asserted that the accusations of injury to the appellant were exaggerated, and that the injury was not caused by the purported snail, but rather by the appellant's pre-existing medical conditions. As a result, the charges were both irrelevant and insufficient to serve as a legal basis for issuing a summons.

Furthermore, they attempted to demonstrate that the appellants lacked a legal basis for the particular claim.

A additional argument advanced by the respondents was that while though the majority of the preceding cases involved non-food goods, there was no logical reason why they could not be applied to food items as a result of their findings.


The outcome of the judgment, was by 3:2 majority, decided for the appellant, Mrs. Donoghue. Lord Atkin, leading the judgment, declared that in the present case there was clear duty of care to Mrs. Donoghue.

It was held that- 

  1. The manufacturer owed a duty of care to all end-consumers of their product

  2. The said liability could arise if and only if there was no way of intermediate inspection of the product, and thus injury was a proximate cause of breach of duty.

  3. The manufacturer did not owe any contractual duty towards the appellant (in line with established doctrine of privity of contract) but at the same time owing to the appellant a general duty of care to ensure the integrity of the said product.


Lord Thankerton and Lord Macmillan concurred. 

Lord Buckmaster and Lord Tomlin presented a dissenting opinion on the grounds that the appellant’s case went against the already established principles. Lord Buckmaster pointed out the importance of retaining the distinction of dangerous and non-dangerous products and implored the application of the exception to only those objects which were inherently dangerous.

Moreover, both these judges denied the legitimate authority of George v. Skivington (1869) and expressed concern over the cascade of cases that might ensue if the ambit of liability of the manufacturers was widened. Lord Buckmaster said that it would be socially and economically irresponsible to affix such a wide liability on the manufacturing sector. Lord Tomlin was of the view that such a feat was logically impossible.


The case, which is credited with establishing the modern-day negligence law, has been studied by analysts for the better part of 88 years. While it is impossible to know what was argued at the two-day hearing, the appeal papers provide evidence of the several arguments that were found to be precedents in the case. Only about seven cases were listed by Donoghue's attorney, who asserted that "no case was discovered in which the Court has concluded that the maker is not liable to the consumer under circumstances identical to the present." Lord Buckmaster was adamant in his opposition to Donoghue's legal team's approach to the case. Lords Atkin and Thankerton, on the other hand, had a bigger concept in mind and worked to build the grander ideas of public policy and law. The case goes on to provide more insight into the themes of Anglo-Saxon law as well as other topics. For the purposes of transformation and reconstruction, the principles established in this case have a very broad scope, and this will be a heated topic of discussion among commentators and jurists in the next months and years.

Vedant Karia


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