Little Bits of History

Negligence

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 26, 2011

Soda and snail

August 26, 1928: May Donoghue’s treat is undelightful. May boarded a tram in Glasgow for a thirty minute ride to Paisley. She was traveling with a friend and they went to the Wellmeadow Café about 8:50 PM and ordered from the owner, Francis Minchella. May ordered an ice cream drink and Francis brought the ice cream and an opaque bottle of ginger beer to the table. The ginger beer was poured over the ice cream and May enjoyed her treat. Then, she added the rest of the ginger beer and a partially decomposed snail dropped out of the bottle.

May later complained of stomach pains and was diagnosed as having gastroenteritis. On April 29, 1929 May brought action against David Stevenson, the maker of the ginger beer located in Paisley. She was asking for £500 in damages. The House of Lords dealt with the case in a preliminary matter and the case was settled out of court. Since there are no case records, some of the facts are a bit sketchy. The friend is never named, the animal was either a snail or a slug, and the ginger beer may have been some other carbonated beverage.

The case known as Donoghue v. Steveson received judgment on May 26, 1932 and established the modern legal concept of negligence in Scots and English law. What was determined was the aspect of “duty of care” stating the legal obligation of a person or institution to hold to a standard of reasonable care while performing acts which may cause harm to others. This is the first requirement for a case of negligence. One has the right to expect soda bottles to contain soda and nothing else.

To successfully bring judgment against negligence, the duty of care must have been breached. This particular breach must have been what caused harm to the other person. This brings liability upon the person who was derelict in their duty to protect from harm. In this case, one could reasonably expect no livestock in a soda bottle. When drinking from a container in which an animal has been decomposing, one is likely to become ill. If illness does occur, the maker of the soda would be held liable for damages.

“A man has a Duty of Care to conduct himself in such a way as to avoid harm to others, where a reasonable man would have seen that such harm could occur.” – Lord Atkin

“Negligence is the rust of the soul, that corrodes through all her best resolves.” – Owen Feltham

“Success produces confidence; confidence relaxes industry, and negligence ruins the reputation which accuracy had raised.” – Ben Jonson

“The real and effectual discipline which is exercised over a workman is that of his customers. It is the fear of losing their employment which restrains his frauds and corrects his negligence.” – Adam Smith

Also on this day:

The Terminal Man – In 1988, Merhan Karrimi Nasseri hit the airport.
Explosive – in 1883, Krakatau began to erupt.

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