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Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] UKHL 100 was a decison of the House of Lords that served two important functions:

  • Secured tort law's (delict in Scots law) independence from the law of contract.
  • Established the modern concept of negligence.

Often referred to as the "Paisley Snail" or "snail in the bottle" case, Donoghue v Stevenson is one of the most famous decisions in English legal history.


The claimant May Donoghue on the evening of Sunday 26th August 1928 journeyed with a companion to Paisley. Upon arrival they proceeded to a nearby cafe from which Mrs Donoghue's companion purchased a bottle of ginger beer. Mrs Donoghue consumed some of its contents, before her companion poured the rest of the ginger beer from the opaque bottle into a tumbler, whilst pouring a snail in a state of decomposition dropped out of the bottle. According to medicial evidence Mrs Donoghue suffered severe shock and gastroenteritis. Mrs Donoghue brought an action against David Stevenson the manufacturer.


Lord Atkins came up with his three part guide for negligence:

  1. Foreseeability
  2. Proximity (Neighbourhood Principle)
  3. Public Policy

His lordship found that the injuries suffered by Mrs Donoghue was sufficiently foreseeable, there is sufficent proximity between David Stevenson and the claimant, and finally there were no public policy reasons precluding a judgment in favour of Mrs Donoghue.

Lord MacMillian and and Lord Thankerton preferred a more minimalistic approach whereby the manufacturer simply owed a duty to the ultimate consumer. Their lordships preferred a categorical approach to duty of care as oppose to Lord Atkins' more generalised approach.