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M'Alister (or Donoghue) v Stevenson [1932] AC 562 (HL)

Facts:

Friend of Donoghue (P) purchased a dark, opaque bottle of ginger-beer and gave it to P. P drank some before her friend discovered a decomposed snail in the bottle. P sued the manufacturer for psychological harm (shock) and gastroenteritis (stomach flu).

Issue(s):

Does the manufacturer of a product have a legal duty to the consumer to take reasonable care that the product is free from defect likely to cause injury?

Ratio:

Classical neighbour principle.

The manufacturer of a product has a legal duty to the consumer to take reasonable care that the product is free from defect likely to cause injury.

Analysis:

Majority:
** Classical neighbour principle: you must not injure your neighbour – where a neighbour is any person so directly affected by your act that you must keep them in mind when acting or omitting to act.
** The manufacturer put food into a container with the intention of having it be opened by a consumer; the consumer could not inspect the contents because of the type of container. The relationship is close enough for a duty of care to arise. Therefore the manufacturer demonstrated negligence when a snail was allowed into the bottle.
** Also, a consumer should have recourse against a manufacturer that provides a flawed product to the consumer – to deny such a legal remedy would be a social wrong

Minority (Dissent):
** There is no special duty attaching to the manufacture of food found in statute, and there was no contract between the consumer and the manufacturer.
** It is a slippery slope to say that a manufacturer should be responsible for all the subsequent uses and consequences of its products.
** It would not be practical for the manufacturer to be responsible for the quality of every single item it produces

Holding:

Appeal allowed in favour of the plaintiff.

Comments:

Lord Atkin:
** “The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbour; and the lawyer’s question, Who is my neighbour? Receives a restricted reply. You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you 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 reasonable to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or missions which are called into question.”


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