The Paisley Snail

Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] UKHL 100 was a landmark court decision in Scots delict law and English tort law by the House of Lords. It laid the foundation of the modern law of negligence, establishing general principles of the duty of care. Also known as the “Paisley snail” or “snail in the bottle” case, the case involved Mrs Donoghue drinking a bottle of ginger beer in a café in Paisley, Renfrewshire. A dead snail was in the bottle. She fell ill, and she sued the ginger beer manufacturer, Mr Stevenson.

The House of Lords held that the manufacturer owed a duty of care to her, which was breached, because it was reasonably foreseeable that failure to ensure the product’s safety would lead to harm to consumers. There was also a sufficiently proximate relationship between consumers and product manufacturers.

Prior to Donoghue v Stevenson, liability for personal injury in tort usually depended upon showing physical damage inflicted directly (trespass to the person) or indirectly (trespass on the case). Being made ill by consuming a noxious substance did not qualify as either, so the orthodox view was that Mrs Donoghue had no sustainable claim in law. However, the decision fundamentally created a new type of liability in law which did not depend upon any previously recognised category of tortious claims. This was an evolutionary step in the common law for tort and delict, moving from strict liability based upon direct physical contact to a fault-based system which only required injury. This evolution was taken further in the later decision of Letang v Cooper [1965] 1 QB 232 when it was held that actions should not be jointly pleaded in trespass and negligence, but in negligence alone.

On the evening of Sunday 26 August 1928, during the Glasgow Trades Holiday, Donoghue took a train to Paisley, Renfrewshire.[3][5]:1[5]:2 In Paisley, she went to the Wellmeadow Café. A friend,[who was with her, ordered a pear and ice for herself and a Scotsman ice cream float, a mix of ice cream and ginger beer, for Donoghue. The owner of the café, Francis Minghella,[brought over a tumbler of ice cream and poured ginger beer on it from a brown and opaque bottle labelled “D. Stevenson, Glen Lane, Paisley”. Furthermore, although the bottle was labelled as Stevenson’s, McByde suggests it is possible it did not originally belong to him. Bottles were often reused, and in the process occasionally returned to the incorrect manufacturer. Moreover, Stevenson initially claimed he did not issue bottles matching the description provided by Donoghue.

Donoghue drank some of the ice cream float. However, when Donoghue’s friend poured the remaining ginger beer into the tumbler, a decomposed snail also floated out of the bottle. Donoghue claimed that she felt ill from this sight, complaining of abdominal pain.According to her later statements of facts, she was required to consult a doctor on 29 August and was admitted to Glasgow Royal Infirmary for “emergency treatment” on 16 September. She was subsequently diagnosed with severe gastroenteritis and shock.

The ginger beer had been manufactured by David Stevenson, who ran a company producing both ginger beer and lemonade at 11 and 12 Glen Lane, Paisley, less than a mile away from the Wellmeadow Café. The contact details for the ginger beer manufacturer were on the bottle label and recorded by Donoghue’s friend.

  • Source: Wikipedia

Donohue vs. Stevenson

Paisley’s own Paolo Nutini