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  • Prologue

    Snail to bottle

    The Snail in the bottle that changed the World

    On the 28th August 1928 May Donoghue, who lived in the Glasgow slum tenements, travelled with her friend to the town of Paisley where they visited the Well Meadow Café. May`s friend ordered 2 drinks. The proprietor brought down the drinks to their table, pouring out some of the contents of May`s Ginger Beer into her glass and leaving the balance to be poured later. Subsequently her friend poured the remainder of the bottle into May`s glass when the contents of a decomposed snail plopped from the bottle into the glass, causing great anxiety (and allegedly subsequent gastro enteritis) to May.

    The Fallout.

    The proprietor was not that concerned : May`s friend had bought the drinks and he therefore had no contract with May; thus relieving him of any duty of care towards her. The law at the time did not allow her to seek any redress from David Stevenson, the manufacturer of the product, either.

    Subsequently May`s solicitor issued a civil claim for compensation against the manufacturer of the product, claiming that he owed her a reasonable duty of care. The foundation of her case was that the manufacturer of an article, intended for human consumption,  which contained a receptacle   preventing inspection, owed a duty to her as consumer of the article to take care that there was no noxious element in the goods. The Plaintiff Mrs Donoghue would rely on the law of Negligence, not Contract. If she was to be successful she would create a new principle of law.

    Having lost her Claim in the Scottish Courts the matter came by way of Appeal, on a point of law, before The House of Lords in the now renowned case of “Donoghue v Stevenson” in 1932.

    The Decision of the House of Lords.

    By a narrow 3 : 2 Decision the Lords found in favour of the Plaintiff. Lord Atkin created a general concept of relations giving rise to a duty of care. He stated :
    You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or 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 or omissions which are called in question.

    The Lords were therefore able to establish a duty of care by the manufacturer to the consumer in this instance. This was based on the fact that the manufacturer should have anticipated that, in selling the product in its form to the consumer with no reasonable possibility of intermediate examination and in the knowledge that the absence of reasonable care in the preparation of that product was likely to result in injury to the consumer, owed that consumer a duty of care. Thus was born the “Neighbour Principle”.

    And the Principle was extended.

    In subsequent cases the “Neighbour Principle” was extended to cover other types of injury and legal relationships and was adopted in many jurisdictions, including Ireland. The Principle is still applied today. So, when an Accident victim asks questions, such as
    •    Am I entitled to Compensation?
    •    Can I make a Claim?
    •    Is the other party responsible for my injury?
    the answer will depend on the “Neighbour Principle” and whether the claimant can point to such a degree of proximity between the Claimant and the other party, known as the respondent, that the Respondent must have known that his negligence would result in injury to the Claimant.


    In a very interesting video powerpoint presentation of the “Donoghue v Stevenson” case by John Keeman of Glasgow, Mr Keeman questions some of the circumstances leading to the Decision of the House of Lords; not least the fact that no snail remains or bottle were ever produced and why no independent Medical Report was ever produced to refute Mrs Donoghue`s Claim that she suffered from nervous shock and a stomach complaint. There never, he maintains, was a Trial on the facts and the case was decided as a matter of law only. Some, he states, have questioned if there ever was a snail or indeed if there ever was a bottle. Maybe it was nothing more than a group of establishment lawyers creating a new legal market to meet the growing consumerism of the time?

    Such a hypothesis is however, as we lawyers know, ridiculous.

    Just in case however you have been involved in an accident and you do come within the “Neighbour Principle” established by Mrs Donoghue`s “snail in the bottle” make sure to read the Morgan McManus “Compensation Claims Guide” where we explain in greater detail the circumstances in which you are entitled to compensation.

    For further information on Personal Injury Claims contact Brian Morgan of Morgan McManus Solicitors:

    Ph. No. : 003534751011

    Email: bmorgan@morganmcmanus.ie

    In contentious claims, a Solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.