Manufacturer Owes A Duty Of Care To Safeguard The Customers: The House Of Lords

In the case of Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] UKHL 100, Lord Atkin held that people must take reasonable care not to injure others who could foreseeably be affected by their action or inaction. This case is also famously known as ‘‘the snail in the bottle’’ case which is not only a landmark judgment in the evolution of common law but also extremely pertinent to the development of tort law, a branch of law that, till today, houses numerous ambiguities.


In 1928, Mr Minchella, Mrs Donoghue’s friend purchased a ginger beer bottle from Wellmeadow Cafe in Scotland. The ginger beer bottle was made of dark opaque glass, and thus, there was no reason to suspect that the bottle might have contained anything other than ginger beer. After consuming almost half of the contents of the bottle, when the rest of the ginger beer was poured into a tumbler, dead, decomposed remains of a snail floated into it. The nauseating sight coupled with the consequences of ingesting the impurities in the bottle caused shock and severe gastro-enteritis to Mrs Donoghue, the appellant. Mrs Donoghue was not able to claim through breach of warranty of a contract as she was not party to any contract. Therefore, she issued proceedings against Stevenson and the case was first filed in the Second Division of Sessions Court of Scotland where the action was dismissed. An appeal was then filed in the House of Lords.


The House of Lords found for Mrs Donoghue with the leading judgment delivered by Lord Atkin in a 3-2 majority with Buckmaster L and Tomlin L dissenting. It was held that- The manufacturer owed a duty of care to all end-consumers of their product. The said liability could arise if and only if there was no way of intermediate inspection of the product, and thus injury was a proximate cause of breach of duty. The manufacturer did not owe any contractual duty towards the appellant (in line with the established Doctrine of Privity of Contract) but at the same time owed to the appellant a general duty of care to ensure the integrity of the said product.

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Reviewed by Anagha K Bharadwaj


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