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Throughout the 19th century manufacturers of goods had no liability for the products in which they produced. It took decades to establish a law in which manufactures were liable for the damages that consumers encountered from defective products.
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Prior to the decision of the house of the lords in Donoghue v Stevenson 1932, the law generally insisted that there had to be a pre-existing relationship between the parties before either a claim for negligence or breach of duty of care could succeed. Injuries gained from defective products were normally claimed on the basis of a contract sale between the seller and the consumer.
Before 1932 many manufacturers or sellers of specific items won court cases where the injured party was suing for negligence or breach of duty of care because the injured person was a third party consumer which meant that they did not buy the product but the product was intended for their use or bought for them.
Although the law wasn’t changed till 1932 in the Donoghue v Stevenson case there were many cases that acted as stepping stones in the process of the law being changed which varied from 1837 all the way up to 1932, In the Langridge v Levy case 1837, Langridges father bought a gun from Levy for the use of Langridge, they later found that the gun was defective and one of the barrels blew up langridge’s hand subsequently Langridge wanted to sue Levy for false representation of information and breach of duty of care under tort of negligence. As Langridge didn’t buy the gun himself he was unable to sue for negligence as there was no contractual relationship between the seller and Langridge himself, however the court was reluctant to change this existing law. Langridge could sue Levy for fraud though as the gun was warranted to be safe when the seller knew it wasn’t.
Another example of a case where there was no contractual relationship between the plaintiff (Winterbottom) and the defendant (Wright) but in my opinion acted as stepping stone to the law being changed was Winterbottom v Wright 1842 in this case there was limited duty considered. Winterbottom had being hired by the postmaster to drive a bus in which was supplied by the post master. The defendant Wright had been hired by the postmaster to maintain the vehicle and keep it in a safe driving state, the vehicles axle broke while the plaintiff was driving it, he was thrown from the bus and as a result was injured. The court heard that the driver could not take legal action against either the postmaster or the coach repairer for breach of contract or for negligence because the contractual relationship was between the post master and the coach repairer themselves. Lord Aitken said: “The duty of the defendant under the contract with the Postmaster General could only have involved such direct relations with the servant of the persons whom the Postmaster General employed to drive the coach as would give rise to a duty of care owed to such servant.” This was a step towards the concept of negligence.
Similarly, in the George v Skivington 1896 A man bought hair was/ shampoo from a seller/ manufacturer, he bought the product for his wife. After the use of the product his wife suffered from hair loss and damages to her scalp, similarly to the cases above, because his wife didn’t have a contractual relationship with the seller/ manufacturer she could not sue them under the contract, however during the hearing the court said that the duty under the contract should be extended to those whom the seller knew was going to be using the product. The result of this case sought that the plaintiff was successful because the seller knew that the product was negligently made and that it was going to be used by the man’s wife and not himself. It ended up that the judge replaced the word negligence with fraud and said that the facts of Langridge v Levy were subsequently the same.
The Donoghue v Stevenson case 1932 was a significant landmark in regard to tort law and in particular in shaping the doctrine of negligence.
Donoghue v Stevenson also known as the “Paisley Snail” or “Snail in the bottle” case, took place in Paisley in Scotland where Ms Donoghue and a friend of hers entered a café, where her friend purchased a bottle of ginger beer for Mrs Donoghue, Mrs Donoghue proceeded to drink the beer as she poured more of the beer from the opaque bottle a decomposed snail fell out of the bottle and into her glass. As the bottle was opaque, Donoghue had drank most of the contents of the bottle before finding the decomposed snail. Mrs Donoghue later fell ill, she claimed she suffered shock as a result and a doctor diagnosed her with gastroenteritis.
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Prior to 1932 liability for personal injury in tort usually depending on being able to show physical injuries. Suffering shock or falling sick because of consuming toxic substances did not qualify, so the initial view was that Mrs May Donoghue had no claim in law.
Before this case, injuries gained from defective products were normally claimed on the basis of a contract of sale between the seller and the consumer, as the bottle of ginger beer was bought by Mrs Donoghues friend there was no contact of sale between Mrs Donoghue and Francis Minchella who was the seller and also the owner of the café in which they went to. Therefore, Mrs Donoghue took legal action against the manufacturer of the ginger beer Mr Stevenson. Mrs Donoghues Lawyers proceeded to sue Stevenson for breach of duty of care to his customers and also sued him for causing injury through negligence, Donoghue sought £500 for damages.
Lord Atkin applied a new rule of law to this case” The duty of care”. Lord Atkins new rule of law stated that the manufacturer now owed a duty of care to the consumer or the person in which the product was intended for and not just the purchaser, third parties had now a right to sue if the duty was broken.
The 1932 case marked a significant landmark in the topic of tort law a specifically it shaped the doctrine of negligence.
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