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General Principle:

First legal formulation of duty of care to identify negligence: The Neighbour principle.


Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562 (old law)

Summary of Facts:

Two friends went to a Café and one of the two bought a bottle of ginger beer. Part of the drink was poured over the ice cream float that Mrs Donoghue consumed. The rest was poured into a glass by the friend who bought the beer. A decomposed snail came out of the bottle. Mrs Donoghue fell sick after consuming the drink and sued the manufacturer of the beer for shock and gastroenteritis.

Full Facts:

May McAllister was born on 4 July 1898 in the Glasgow parish of Cambuslang; she was the daughter of James and Mary Jane McAllister. McAllister married Henry Donoghue on 19 February 1916 and had four children with him; however, all but one, Henry, were born prematurely and lived no longer than two weeks. The couple separated in 1928 and McAllister, now Donoghue, moved into her brother's flat at 49 Kent Street, Glasgow.[7]:1,3–4

On the evening of Sunday 26 August 1928, during the Glasgow Trades Holiday, Donoghue took a train to Paisley, Renfrewshire, located seven miles west of Glasgow; the journey would have taken around thirty minutes.[3][7]:1 In Paisley, she went to the Wellmeadow Café. At approximately 20:50 a friend,[Note 2] who may have travelled with Donoghue, was with her and ordered a pear and ice for herself and a Scotsman ice cream float, a mix of ice cream and ginger beer, for Donoghue.[7]:4 The owner of the café, Francis Minghella,[Note 3] brought over a tumbler of ice cream and poured ginger beer on it from a brown and opaque bottle labelled "D. Stevenson, Glen Lane, Paisley".[Note 4][3] Donoghue drank some of the ice cream float. However, when Donoghue's friend poured the remaining ginger beer into the tumbler, a decomposed snail also floated out of the bottle. Donoghue claimed that she felt ill from this sight, complaining of abdominal pain.[3][9] According to her later statements of facts (condescendences), she was required to consult a doctor on 29 August and was admitted to Glasgow Royal Infirmary for "emergency treatment" on 16 September.[7]:23[10]:7 She was subsequently diagnosed with severegastroenteritis and shock.[3][8]:566

The issues

On 26th August the Appellant (“App”) was in the Wellmeadow Café in Paisley with a friend who bought her a drink. App 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 the App to feel very unwell. She sued the manufacturer of the ginger beer the Respondent (“R”). The issue is whether the manufacturer owed a duty of care to her, which was breached, because it was reasonably foreseeable that failure to ensure the product's safety would lead to harm of consumers.


Neighbour’s principle test: “You must love your neighbour. You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour”. Your neighbour is someone “closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have in contemplation as being so affected” (per Lord Atkin).

Application: The manufacturer owed a duty of care to the ultimate consumer. The absence of a contract between the parties did not exclude the presence of duty of care against the manufacturer.

There was a significant development of the concept of duty of care, which stemmed from the Neighbour test.

Donoghue v Stevenson


Donoghue v. Stevenson established a long-standing principle and authority known as the neighbour principle, which gave rise to a duty of care. In Heaven v. Pender, attempts were made to clarify the concept of duty, whereas the cause of action in Donoghue was much clearer. There is a question as to whether its subsequent expansion gives rise to negligence liability where none should exist. Donoghue marked a departure from the requirement that injured parties have contractual relationships in order to file claims. Lord Atkin discarded the notion of privity of contract and created a new concept, the neighbour principle, with two essential concepts: foreseeability of injury and a definition of implied proximity between parties. The presence of both concepts established a general criterion for classifying individuals with a duty of care. Lord Atkins' reference to 'who is my neighbour?' extended to those close enough to be directly harmed by a person's actions that injure and could be liable in negligence, if harm was foreseeable; the tortfeasor should have persons close enough in mind so that injury can be prevented. There was no liability for a tortfeasor who was regarded not to have a duty of care, however, so the floodgates were kept firmly closed. Since interpretation is discretionary, it was permissible for courts to make policy decisions. The principle led to ambiguity regarding the significance of this intimate relationship, whether physical, emotional, or practical.

Donoghue v Stevenson

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