Welcome to the "Decoding Judgements" series! Our goal is to simplify key English law cases and help you navigate the intricate world of law through structured summaries made with CaseSnappy. Today, we're diving into the landmark case of Donoghue v Stevenson  AC 562 — a ruling that shaped the foundation of negligence law and established the 'neighbour principle.'
The Snail in the Ginger Beer: Facts of the Case
Imagine visiting a café with your friend and sharing a glass of ginger beer, only to discover a decomposed snail hiding in the drink, leading to severe illness. This unfortunate scenario was the reality for Mrs. Donoghue in 1932, who ultimately filed a lawsuit against Stevenson, the ginger beer manufacturer.
Question of Duty: Issues in the Case
At the heart of Donoghue v Stevenson lay the question of whether Stevenson owed a duty of care to Mrs. Donoghue. With no contractual relationship between them, Stevenson argued he was not responsible for any harm caused by his product. Additionally, he claimed that previous legal cases offered no indication that he could be held liable for such circumstances.
The Birth of the Neighbour Principle: The Decision
Despite Stevenson's arguments, the House of Lords ruled that he did owe a duty of care to Mrs. Donoghue. As a consumer of his product, the court acknowledged that Stevenson should have considered the potential harm caused by a defective product like the contaminated ginger beer. Ultimately, this case marked the inception of the 'neighbour principle,' a cornerstone of negligence law. Lord Atkin, one of the presiding judges, eloquently summarised the neighbour principle: "You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour."
Who is considered a neighbour, in legal terms? Lord Atkin's answer: "persons who are so 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."
CaseSnappy: Your Legal Toolkit
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