Lawyers are marking, and in some cases even celebrating, the 90th anniversary of the landmark House of Lords decision in a case called Donoghue v Stevenson.
Miss McAllister (later Donoghue) went to a café in Paisley with her friend and asked for a sundae which involved a bottle of ginger beer being poured over ice cream. Her friend paid for the treat. As the last dregs of the ginger beer were poured the remains of a snail slithered forth from the bottle.
Miss McAllister wanted to sue the café owner (Stevenson) but there was no contract between her and him. A claim was therefore brought in negligence and was pursued to the House of Lords, and their Lordships took the opportunity to state the law in broad terms which expanded people’s understanding of ‘duty of care’. Although the facts were unusual and the claim trivial the consequences have been profound in this country and in all ‘common law’ jurisdictions such as the USA and the Commonwealth. It is in effect the beginning of ‘product liability’ and modern consumer protection. Hard on the heels of Donoghue came Grant v Australian Woollen Mills, where the claimant sued the manufacturer (not the supplier) having contracted dermatitis from his longjohns (!)