Donoghue v Stevenson Bottle and Snail


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One of the most famous cases in Scottish and English contract law concerned the curious incident of May Donoghue, a shop assistant in her 30s, who went to the Wellmeadow cafe in Paisley one Sunday evening in 1928. With her was a friend, who ordered ice cream and pears for herself, and an ice cream float for May. The Italian proprietor brought over the ice cream in a tumbler and poured some ginger beer over it from a bottle bearing the name of D. Stevenson, Glen Lane, Paisley. Mrs Donoghue took a drink, and her friend refilled the tumbler with ginger beer in which there now mingled the decomposed remains of a snail.

Mrs Donoghue suffered 'shock' and not long after a severe bout of gastro-enteritis which landed her in Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Her solicitor issued a writ against David Stevenson, claiming £500 in damages and costs. The case ultimately reached the House of Lords, where, by a majority of three to one, the Lords decided in Mrs Donoghue's favour. In the speech that was to become famous - and the guiding principle in all future cases of negligence - Lord Atkin said:

"The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes, in law, you must not injure your neighbour; who then, in law, is my neighbour? The answer seems to be persons so closely affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to acts or omissions which are called ito question."

In the case of Donoghue v Stevenson, David Stevenson was liable to Mrs Donoghue for his negligence because she was someone who he could have foreseen would be affected by his actions. Even though she had not bought the drink (her friend had), he owed her a duty of care.

We thought that a case as famous, bizarre and important as this ought to be celebrated in some way. We therefore commissioned Original Book Works, a Cirencester-based firm who we know well, to create a close replica of the D. Stevenson ginger beer bottle, guided by photos of an original, and to accompany it with a 'snail' letter opener which sheaths into the neck of the bottle.

The result is a witty, attractive, desktop gift that will be appreciated by every lawyer who ever studied tort law (which means every lawyer). The bottle itself stands 6.5 inches high, but with the letter-opener sheathed reaches 8 inches. It is heavy, so won't topple over, and has a felt base, so won't scratch your desk. It comes in a simple but attractive box.