It all began in August 1928. The scene was Minchella’s cafe in Paisley, near Glasgow. A certain Mrs Donoghue had gone in for a drink. This is her story: a friend bought her a bottle of ginger beer; she began to drink it; then, as her friend topped up her tumbler, she watched in horror as the decomposed remnants of a snail floated out with the ginger beer; she suffered shock and an upset stomach. Now Mrs Donoghue’s injuries may seem of less than earth-shattering importance to us today, but it is to these unlikely beginnings that the modern law of negligence owes its existence. Mrs Donoghue, unable to sue Minchella in the law of contract because she had not bought the bottle herself (there was no ‘privity of contract’), brought an action in tort against the manufacturer, Stevenson. She alleged that he had been negligent in producing the drink. In response, Stevenson denied that those injured by a negligently manufactured product had any right to recover damages outside certain exceptional categories (e.g. inherently or patently dangerous products like firearms). The case reached the House of Lords, which found in favour of Mrs Donoghue. It was not a unanimous decision: two powerful dissents were registered. Neither was the decision of the majority clear and unambiguous in every respect: was it to be a rule confined to defective products or was it to have wider effect? Today, however, its status is unquestioned and its effect plain for all to see, for Donoghue v. Stevenson  AC 562 is the case that changed the face of the law of negligence.
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