Donoghue v Stevenson

The Paisley Snail MiniTrial

Introduction to The Paisley Snail MiniTrial “SCLR Edition”

or “Donoghue v Stevenson [2007 Remix]”

“MiniTrial” is an educational initiative from Scottish Lawyers – supported by The Faculty of Advocates, The Law Society of Scotland, and The W.S. Society.

MiniTrials are normally used to enable Scottish students to run to their own criminal jury trials either in class or in their local Sheriff Court in accordance with Scottish criminal procedure.

This “SCLR Edition” has been specially created for the Scottish Council of Law Reporting (a charity) to celebrate the world famous civil case of Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 S.C. (H.L.) 31 – the case of “The Paisley Snail”.

This is a “Remixed” version of that case – based on the original facts but incorporating some aspects of more modern Scottish Court of Session procedure and a little bit of artistic licence in relation to some specially created “new materials”.

The facts of the original case were simple. On 26th August 1928 Mrs May Donoghue was in the Wellmeadow Café in Paisley with a friend who bought her a drink. Mrs Donoghue had consumed part of bottle of ginger beer – as part of an ice-cream float. At that point all was well. However, when the rest of the bottle was poured into her glass out floated what appeared to be the rotting remains of a decomposing snail. That caused May Donoghue to feel very unwell – or so she claimed.

She sued the manufacturer of the ginger beer – David Stevenson – and after much legal argument the House of Lords held (decided) that in principle she had a good claim as a matter of law.

The importance of the case lies in the legal principle which it established. The House of Lords answered the question “Who in law is my neighbour?” and their decision shaped legal thinking throughout the common-law world. It has given rise to modern principles of product liability and it remains an important part of the law of “tort” (called “delict” in Scotland) which deals with civil wrongs.

The legal points are clearly summarised in the Session Cases report in Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 S.C. (H.L.) 31 – which can be found in the 1932 volume of Session Cases.

If you wish, you can read the fascinating article about the case and see many of the actual court documents at Introduction to the Donoghue v Stevenson Digital Resources.

Unfortunately, the original case never proceeded to a trial so no-one knows what might have actually happened if the case had gone ahead.

We would like to remedy that – by recreating a Scottish civil jury trial based on the original pleadings (written court documents summarising the case) from the actual case but updated and “remixed” with some new specially created materials to reflect what actually happens now in a Scottish civil jury trial.

We will use a simplified but realistic version of the court procedure which is actually used in the Court of Session in Edinburgh – and we will follow the same basic format as has been used successfully in previous criminal MiniTrials.

Participant students will conduct their own civil jury trials and will act as the witnesses, lawyers, court officials and jurors. The student lawyers will make the opening speeches, lead the evidence, and address the jury. The student jurors will consider their verdict, decide the question of liability and if appropriate make an award of damages. The students can be supported by local lawyers and a senior lawyer can play the part of the judge.

At the end of the case – we will find out what the outcome might have been if the famous case of the Paisley Snail had actually gone to trial.

In addition to the words of May Donoghue and David Stevenson (from their written pleadings), this remix version also contains some new specially created “evidence” (from Ann Onymous, Dr. James Y. Simpson and Robert L. Stevenson!) to help you get the flavour of the trial.

2007 has been chosen as the remix date – as that will be the 75th anniversary of the original House of Lords decision.

Will May Donoghue Junior win her case?

What will the verdict be?

What sum, if any, will be awarded as damages?

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