The Snail and the Ginger Beer: The Singular Case of Donoghue v Stevenson

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On an August evening in 1928 May Donoghue entered a café in Paisley. The circumstances of her visit made legal history. A ginger beer was ordered for Mrs Donoghue who famously complained that, to her surprise and shock, a decomposed snail had tumbled from the bottle into her glass. Mrs Donoghue sued for the nervous shock she claimed to have suffered as a result. The question whether she had a case in law against the manufacturer of the ginger beer was argued as far as the House of Lords. It is hard to overstate the importance of the decision in Donoghue v Stevenson. It represents, perhaps, the greatest contribution made by English and Scottish lawyers to the development of the common law.

This case made it clear that, even without a contract between the parties, a duty of care is owed by ‘A’ to take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which could reasonably be foreseen as likely to cause injury to his neighbour: ‘B’. This concept, developed by the great jurist Lord Atkin, has become known by the universal shorthand, ‘the neighbour principle’. Who, Lord Atkin asked rhetorically, is ‘in law’ my neighbour? This case provides the answer. This book tells the full story and provides vivid biographical sketches of the protagonists and of the great lawyers who were involved in the case. It sets the case in its historical context and re-evaluates the evidence. he constitutional importance of the case is also dealt with; the blow it struck for a moral approach to the law which departed from a rigid doctrine of precedent. Finally, the book investigates the influence of Donoghue v Stevenson across the common law world: from the USA to the countries of what is now the Commonwealth.

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Wildy, Simmonds and Hill Publishing
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