Case Briefs

Donoghue v Stevenson

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Donoghue v Stevenson


Donoghue v Stevenson, [1932] AC 562


May Donoghue


Stevenson, a manufacturer




House of Lords


Lords Buckmaster, Atkin, Tomlin, Thankerton, and Macmillan


United Kingdom

Area of law

Duty of care


Is there liability in negligence for injury caused by another in the absence of a contract?


On the 26 August, 1928 Donoghue and a friend were at a café in Glasgow. Donoghue's companion ordered and paid for a bottle of Stevenson's ttle. Donoghue drank some of the contents and her friend lifted the bottle to pour the remainder of the ginger beer into the tumbler. The remains of a snail in a state of decomposition dropped out of the bottle into the tumbler. Donoghue later complained of stomach pain and her doctor diagnosed her as having gastroenteritis and being in a state of severe shock. Donoghue sued Stevenson, the manufacturer of the drink, for negligence. She was unsuccessful at trial and appealed the decision to the House of lords.


  1. Is there liability in negligence for injury caused by another in the absence of a contract? 


Appeal allowed. The case established the modern law of negligence and established the neighbour test.


The majority state that in cases such as this the manufacturer does owe a duty of care to the eventual consumers. A manufacturer knows upon production that the overall goal of their product is to be consumed, and not simply to be purchased by a distributor. They state that Winterbottom does not apply here, as it dealt with a claim of breach of contract. In this case, there is no contract. The judges hold that this does not mean that there cannot be a relationship between the two parties in which duty is owed to the plaintiff. They also state that even if there was a contract between the two parties this does not mean that a duty would not be owed. Overall, they find that in cases like this where the manufacturers are manufacturing goods for the eventual consumption of consumers, they have a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that their products are safe for consumption.

Lords Buckmaster and Tomlin, in the dissent, state that the common law principles cannot be changed and that to allow this appeal would open too many doors. He says that there can be no special duty attaching to the manufacture of food apart from that implied by contract or imposed by statute.


  • You must take reasonable care when proceeding with actions or omissions that you can reasonably foresee harming your neighbour.
  • Neighbours are persons who are reasonably foreseeable as being affected by your actions or omissions.
  • A duty of care is not owed to the world at large; it is owed to your neighbours.


In light of the above discussion, following the principles developed, consumers are now protected from defective products of negligent manufacturers through the enactment of various laws.

The parties injured by defective products can now sue in the line of duty of care, action need  not be based on contractual relationship.

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