Happy birthday Donoghue v Stevenson!

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By Rona Ankrah on


Iconic snail in ginger beer judgment turns 90 today

Today marks 90 years since the House of Lords judgment of Donoghue v Stevenson, a caselaw classic among all students of common law.

Paisley-born May Donoghue cemented her place in legal history for successfully suing a drinks manufacturer after she fell ill when she discovered a decomposing snail in a bottle of ginger beer her friend had bought her.

The famous House of Lords decision, handed down on 26 May 1932, ruled that the manufacturer — David Stevenson — owed her a duty of care, sparking the modern civil law tort of negligence by establishing when a duty of care may arise.

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A much-loved staple of modern legal education, Lord Atkin revealed in his research notes that he felt confident that the case ‘will also have served some small role in developing a more humane and just society’.

Regardless of his intention, it certainly has inspired artwork, a student-made snail sanctuary and even laughter in court.

Happy birthday Donoghue v Stevenson!