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NEGLIGENCE: An Introduction - Part 1 (B1 and above)

Let’s begin with a story. It is a story of something that happened almost 100 years ago. It is a story of something that happened in Scotland, but which changed English law forever.


In 1928, Mary (or May) Donoghue lived in a poor part of Glasgow. She was a shop assistant and she and her husband had just separated after 12 years of marriage. The marriage had not been happy. Three of May’s children had died soon after being born.


We don’t know, but perhaps to cheer herself up, on the evening of 26th August 1928 she and a friend decided to go to a café in a part of Glasgow called Paisley. The café was called the Wellmeadow Café and was owned by a man called Francis Minghella. They arrived at the café at about 8.50pm.


For whatever reason, May’s friend offered to buy the drinks. May decided to have an ice cream float. This is a drink made by mixing ice cream with ginger beer. Mr Minghella put some ice cream in a glass called a ‘tumbler’, opened an opaque [dark] bottle of ginger beer, and poured some of the ginger beer over the ice cream. We don’t know what drink May’s friend chose, but perhaps it does not matter.


May drank some of the ice cream float from the glass. May’s friend then poured the rest of the ginger beer from the bottle into May’s glass. As she did so, a decomposing [dead and rotting] snail came out of the bottle and fell into May’s glass. At the sight of this, May obviously felt sick. Afterwards, she suffered from a stomach illness called ‘gastroenteritis’, which causes vomiting [sickness] and other stomach problems.


The ginger beer had been manufactured [made/produced] by a company called Stevensons, who made lemonade and ginger beer at a factory in Paisley. Their bottles were usually made of green or black glass. The bottle of ginger beer in this case had been bought by Mr Minghella from Stevensons.


These are the essential facts of a legal case which was to change English law. We will look at what happened in that case in the next post. However, think about the following questions for next time:

What do you think the legal issues were in this case? [Remember: this is a case that took place before there were any modern laws about product liability].

See you next time.

© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2020

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