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.