Paisley will always be renowned as the origin of a landmark Scottish law case that not only changed the face of Scots law but changed the basis of negligence and consumer rights throughout the world.
On the 26th of August 1928 May Donoghue, a shop assistant, discovered what she thought were the remains of a decomposing snail in her bottle of ginger beer that a friend had bought for her at the former Wellmeadow café in Paisley. The bottle was not clear glass and Mrs Donoghue had consumed most of its contents before she became aware of the snail. The very sight of the snail caused Mrs Donoghue shock and she also suffered from gastro-enteritis. Mrs Donoghue, represented by the aptly named Mr Leechman, raised legal proceedings against David Stevenson, the local manufacturer of the ginger beer.
Given that her friend had bought the ginger beer for her Mrs Donoghue could not sue for breach of contract. Instead, she alleged that Mr Stevenson, as the manufacturer of the ginger beer, had breached a duty of care to his consumers and his negligence had caused her injuries. Whilst initially unsuccessful at the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court, Mrs Donoghue subsequently appealed to the House of Lords and the decision reached ensured that Paisley would be forever talked about in universities and court rooms throughout the world.
The House of Lords established that manufacturers, like Mr Stevenson, owed a duty of care to the end consumers of their products. The Bible story of the Good Samaritan and the principle of loving your neighbour was even considered by the court in reaching their decision. It was held that manufacturers should care about the consumers of their products much like neighbours should care for one another. This is often referred to as the ‘neighbour principle’. The House of Lords held that the case should be returned to the Court of Session.
Mr Stevenson died before the case ever returned to Court and an out of court settlement was eventually reached where Mrs Donoghue received £200 in compensation. The decision in Donoghue v Stevenson 1932 SC (HL) 31 was an important stage in the development of the law of negligence and has also resulted in legislation being passed to protect consumers from contaminated or faulty goods. Some commentators refer to it as the “case that launched a million lawsuits”.
Having been in Paisley for over 200 years, we at Walker Laird are a proud sponsor of the Pride of Paisley. The Donoghue v Stevenson case is a historical milestone in this great town’s history and firmly put Paisley on the legal world map. We deal with a wide variety of negligence claims and if you have had an accident of any kind, whatsoever, please visit our website and fill in the online enquiry form or contact Michael Wilson or Robert Moore who have over 30 years of experience between them in this area of law. One thing is for sure, if your case ever reaches court one of the first cases referred to will be Donoghue v Stevenson!
We will be sponsoring the Town Hall Lion by artist, Margaret Fraser and the Wellmeadow Street Lion by artist, Caroline Watson in the exhibition that starts this Saturday (July 9th) and runs until September 25th.