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Donoghue v Stevenson

[1932] AC 562

Case summary last updated at 18/01/2020 18:36 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case Donoghue v Stevenson

A manufacturer (R) sold bottles of drink to a café which sold them to customers. One bottle contained a snail and made P ill when she drank it. Case in HL determined whether R had a legal duty to P and thus whether a case could be brought. HL said there was a legal duty, establishing (i) that manufacturers have a duty to take care for their consumers and (ii) that R must take “reasonable care to avoid causing foreseeable injury”.
Lord Atkin: Negligence: “You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour”. He defines “neighbour” as people who are “so directly affected” by my act or omission that I “ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected” when I undertake the act/omission. This is the meaning of the “proximity” doctrine i.e. not merely physical proximity. He takes moral perspective: It is wrong that a person who consumes the product and is harmed due to R’s negligence should be left without remedy as would happen if there were no contract/warranty involved i.e. if the consumer is not the purchaser, as here. Finally he says that liability for negligence has public support
Lord Macmillan: To whom was the duty owed? All “potential consumers” of his product. “Liability occurs where a reasonable man would have foreseen, and could have avoided the consequences of his act/omission”. Circumstances will always dictate whether (i) there was a duty of care and (ii) to whom it was owed. NB where the product was intended to reach the consumer in the condition in which the manufacturer sold it, and it was so, the manufacturer is liable, as in this case. However if intermediary parties “have the means and opportunity” to examine it, then the manufacturer’s liability ceases (not this case). Negligence has to be proved by P and it has to be shown that the thing was in a state capable of causing injury at the point when it left the manufacturer. The burden is on P, and res ipsa loquitur doesn’t apply. Lord Macmillan said that “the categories of negligence are never closed”.

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