By Karen Ashton & Natalie Fitzsimmons, Hampson Hughes Solicitors
It is accepted in the field of personal injury that the single most significant precedent for this area of law as it stands today remains the decision of the court made in 1932 in the case of Donoghue v Stevenson.
It is this case where the bulk of legal principles, which relate to the law that governs personal injury as it still stands today, was set down in what was and still remains, a landmark decision.
The case itself arises out of Mrs Donoghue buying a bottle of ginger beer from a café. Having drank most of its contents she found that the bottom of the bottle contained the decomposing remains of a snail. What made this case so historically significant was that Mrs Donoghue sought compensation from the manufacturer of the ginger beer (Stevenson), with whom she had no explicit contract. Mrs Donoghue’s claim was based upon her argument that she was owed compensation for both the nervous shock she had suffered as a result of the defect and the gastroenteritis she claimed to have developed from drinking it.
Mrs Donoghue’s claim was successful – it went all the way to the House of Lords where it was held that the manufacturer owed a duty of care to Mrs Donoghue and this was breached because it was reasonably foreseeable that failure to ensure the product’s safety would lead to harm of consumers.
This case therefore became the single most important ruling to date in English law on the issue of common law negligence. Of particular importance from the case was the significant reasoning behind the decision to find in Mrs Donoghue’s favour given by Lord Atkin, and what is commonly known as “the neighbour principle”:
“There must be, and is, some general conception of relations giving rise to a duty of care, of which the particular cases found in the books are but instances….The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law you must not injury your neighbour; and the lawyer’s question: Who is my neighbour? Receives a restricted reply. You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who, then, in law, is my neighbour? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as long as so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions that are called in question.”
With this decision there then came into practice what we know of today (and over the last 80 years since Donoghue v Stevenson) – the principles of common law negligence which govern for the purposes of the work we do here at Hampson Hughes Solicitors – specifically the area of personal injury claims.
Without this decision, and where areas of personal injury are not governed by particular legislation also, this forms the basis of any claim brought by an innocent party involved in an accident which was not their fault.
If you have been involved in an accident at work, or have suffered a slip, trip or fall please contact Hampson Hughes Solicitors specialist team, asking for either Karen Ashton or Natalie Fitzsimmons, on 0800 888 6888 or by emailing