The case of a snail in a bottle is one of the first cases you learn about when you study law and it’s one of the few where the facts really stick in your brain!

What happened?

Donoghue went to a café where her friend bought Donoghue a bottle of ginger beer. When she was topping up her glass, out fell a decomposed snail… and as the bottle was opaque, by this point she had drunk most of the contents! She subsequently fell ill and sought to claim damages from the manufacturer.

What was the problem?

This case happened in 1928 when legal protection for consumers was very different. It may be hard to imagine nowadays, but generally, manufacturers only owed a duty of care to the ultimate consumer if there was a contractual relationship between the parties!

In this instance, the contract of sale of the ginger beer was between Donoghue’s friend and the shop owner, so there was no direct contractual relationship between Donoghue and Stevenson (the manufacturer).

Therefore, although it was her that drank it and suffered the damage, there was no legal cause of action for Donoghue to bring a claim. Indeed, shortly before this case, there was a similar set of facts involving mice in ginger beer and the claimants’ case had failed for this reason.

Outcome of the case

The case went all the way to the House of Lords where the judges eventually found in favour of Donoghue. In other words, in this case, the manufacturer owed a duty of care to the end consumer despite the lack of a contract.

But even this decision was a split decision, with two of the five judges disagreeing. However, it arguably started the process of protecting consumers.

What this means for your business…

Probably nothing! But hopefully, you found it an interesting story!

Anyone for ginger beer?!

If you have any questions about this case, email or call 01202 729444.