Looking Back

On Behalf of | Jul 29, 2015 | Car Wrecks

Though it may be a bit short on legal analysis, and its facts remain disputed, one of the world’s first negligence cases sets forth all the essential elements of a modern-day car accident lawsuit.

1932’s Donoghue v. Stevenson is sometimes known as the “snail in a bottle” case. Ms. Donoghue was allegedly enjoying a treat of ginger beer over ice cream at a café in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland. It was an ordinary occasion, except for the dead snail that was in the bottle, quite unbeknownst to her. Ms. Donoghue claimed she fell ill at the mere sight of the partially-decomposed mollusk, and was, as a result, diagnosed with gastroenteritis and shock. In a subsequent lawsuit against Mr. Stevenson, the beer manufacturer, she claimed that he had a duty of care to ensure that dead snails were not in the beer bottles, and that Mr. Stevenson’s failure to follow established cleaning procedures caused her damages. For his part, Mr. Stevenson insisted that her “alleged injuries are grossly exaggerated.”

The House of Lords ultimately reversed a lower court’s decision, concluding that the manufacturer did have a duty to ensure clean bottles and the breach proximately caused Ms. Donoghue’s injury, as it was reasonably foreseeable that unsafe products would harm consumers. Mr. Stevenson died before the second trial and the record is incomplete, leading one of the judges to remark that the “intruding gastropod was as much a legal fiction as the Casual Ejector,” a reference to a centuries-old tactic used in landownership actions.

Elements of a Negligence Case

Though a car accident on Interstate 35 has very little to do with a dead snail, all the building blocks are the same.

  • Duty: Drivers owe a duty of reasonable care to pedestrians and other motorists. In general terms, they must drive cautiously and obey traffic laws.
  • Breach: Distracted driving, operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and speeding are the three most common breaches, but there are many others.
  • Cause: The defendant’s breach must be an actual cause of the plaintiff’s damages, though not necessarily the only cause. The injury must also be foreseeable.
  • Damage: This element nearly always entails physical injury and/or property damage; negligent infliction of emotional distress claims are very difficult to win in Texas and elsewhere.

Victims are typically entitled to compensation for both economic and non-economic losses.

Although every case is different, a savvy attorney uses a common approach to achieve the best results. For a free consultation with an experienced New Braunfels personal injury attorney, contact our office. We represent victims throughout South Central Texas.