On 26 August 1928, in the United Kingdom, a friend of Ms Donoghue purchased a bottle of ginger beer from a café and gave it to Ms Donoghue to drink. Ms Donoghue drank the ginger beer by pouring the ginger beer into a glass and drinking it from the glass. Part way through the bottle, she was refilling her glass when the decomposing remains of a dead snail came out of the bottle. Ms Donoghue suffered a severe case of gastroenteritis, and psychological injury, as a result of consuming the contaminated ginger beer.

Ms Donoghue sued the manufacturer of the bottle of ginger beer, on the basis that the manufacturer owed Ms Donoghue, and other consumers, a duty of care to ensure that decomposed snails did not find their way into the bottles of ginger beer. Ms Donoghue argued that she had no way to detect the snail because the ginger beer was sold to her in an opaque bottle, meaning that the contents could not be examined between the time that the drink was manufactured and the time when it was purchased and consumed by Ms Donoghue.

The manufacturer argued that, as there was no contractual relationship between the manufacturer and Ms Donoghue, it did not owe a duty of care to Ms Donoghue.

The case was considered by the House of Lords in England, and Ms Donoghue was ultimately successful.

This case taught us two very important lessons. The first lesson, is that we should all make sure that we do not consume ginger beer from opaque bottles!

The second, and most important lesson, is what is often described as the “neighbour principle”. In delivering his judgment, Lord Aiken said:

“The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbour … 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 into question.”

It is upon the principles established in this important case, that the law of negligence in Australia has developed. Whilst more recent cases have added to and clarified what the court said in Donoghue v Stevenson, individuals and corporations continue to owe a duty of care similar to the manufacturer of the bottle of ginger beer, in a variety of circumstances.

If, like Ms Donoghue, you have suffered an injury because of someone else’s conduct, you should contact Stacks Goudkamp on 1800 25 1800 or on our website, and speak to one of our friendly solicitors to discuss your entitlement to compensation for your injuries.

Written by Brett Watts.

Brett Watts is a Solicitor in Tom Goudkamp and Ruth Hudson’s Practice Group.  Brett represents people who have been injured in a variety of accidents including motor vehicle claims and public liability claims.