The curious case of the snail in the bottle

Did you know? One of the pivotal moments in tort law history features a decomposed snail found in a bottle, which was the subject of the dispute in Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562.

Mrs Donoghue purchased a bottle of ginger beer from a café in Scotland.   After she drank the ginger beer she noticed a decomposed snail floating in the liquid.  This resulted in her contracting gastroenteritis.  She sued the manufacturer of the ginger beer, Mr Stevenson, for damages.  However, having no contractual relationship with the manufacturer, Mrs Donoghue had to rely on an action in negligence. The main issue that had to be determined was whether Mr Stevenson, as the manufacturer, owed a duty of care to Mrs Donoghue. At the time, there was no clear legal precedent on the duty of care owed by manufacturers to consumers.

The House of Lords found in favour of Mrs Donoghue, holding that Mr Stevenson did owe a duty of care to Mrs Donoghue. The Court established the “neighbour principle”, which holds that a person owes a duty of care to those closely and directly affected by their actions. This duty was famously articulated by Lord Atkin when he said:

“You must take reasonable care to avoid acts and omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure […] persons who are so closely and directly affected by [your] act that [you] ought reasonably to have them in contemplation when [you] are directing [your] mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question. This standard of reasonable care creates a positive duty on a manufacturer, retailer, distributor or donor to exercise a standard of reasonable care for any injury which is reasonably foreseeable in respect of those goods.”

The decision in Donoghue v Stevenson established the legal framework for modern negligence law.   Also, the YouTube parody video is a must see

About me (Anjelica Whitelaw) – I have been an insurance litigation lawyer for nearly 2 years and I am an Associate in the William Roberts Lawyers’ New South Wales team. Outside of work, I advocate and fundraise for Make-A-Wish Australia so that seriously ill children can experience the power of a wish. When I’m not in the office, you can find me hosting fashion events or on stage at international pageants.

Related News


Did you know – The issue of “betterment” is often raised in tort and contract claims for replacement or repair costs. The theory behind betterment

Read More


Did you know: When either the insurer or the insured commences proceedings in a recovery action that involves subrogation, they are obligated to protect the

Read More

WR Insurance Bulletins

Welcome to William Roberts’ Insurance bulletins, where we share our thoughts on relevant or interesting legal issues. Please click on the relevant article to read

Read More

Get in touch

Contact our team today

Stay informed

Keep up-to-date with our regular news and insights

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
William Roberts Lawyers


Level 22
66 Goulburn Street


Level 21
535 Bourke Street


Level 8
300 Ann Street


Level 19
Singapore Land Tower
50 Raffles Place