Donoghue v Stevenson

The Paisley Snail MiniTrial

3. The Law – a summary

You will find the main legal concepts outlined in the draft Judge’s charge and in the draft speeches to the jury – which are with your case papers (below). Please read them to help you prepare.

The main legal principles are those underlying the original case of Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 S.C. (H.L.) 31. In that case The House of Lords held (decided):–

Where the manufacturer of a product intended for human consumption sends it out in a form which shows that he means it to reach the ultimate consumer in the form in which it left his factory, with no reasonable possibility of intermediate examination by the retailer or consumer, and with the knowledge that want of reasonable care on his part in the preparation of the product may result in injury to the consumer, the manufacturer owes a duty to the consumer to take such care, and will be liable to the latter, in damages if he suffers injury through the failure to take such care.

In his speech Lord Atkin said:

“You must take reasonable care to avoid acts and omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who, then, in law is my neighbour? The answer seems to be – 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 and omissions which are called in question.”

The principle on which his judgment rested was as follows:

“[A] manufacturer of products, which he sells in such a from as to show that he intends them to reach the ultimate consumer in the form in which they left him with no reasonable possibility of intermediate examination, and with the knowledge that the absence of reasonable care in the preparation or putting up of the products will result in an injury to the consumer’s life or property, owes a duty to the consumer to take that reasonable care.”

Those principles still lie at the heart of the modern common law of negligence and consumer protection. You can visit the Scottish Council of Law Reporting site at www.scottishlawreports.org.uk for further background information.

Has May Donoghue proved a lack of reasonable care on the part of David Stevenson? If so, what award of damages should she receive?

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