BY: Sakshi Jha from Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad Semester IV


Negligence is “the failure to take proper care over something.” This term is commonly used in today’s day-to-day language. In legal language, negligence is the failure to treat another individual with the degree of care that a wise or reasonable person would provide in a comparable situation. This is a “failure to exercise care” that includes both doing nothing and acting negligently.

In this article, we’ll look at negligence in detail with the help of the case of ‘Donoghue v. Stevenson.’ 

Keywords: Negligence, Donoghue v. Stevenson


Jay M. Feinman of the Rutgers University School of Law says, “The core idea of negligence is that people should exercise reasonable care when they act by taking account of the potential harm that they might foreseeably cause to other people.”

One facet of the law of liability is the common law doctrine of negligence. The concept of negligence only demands the removal of all unjustifiable risk, as determined by the gravity of the potential consequences, from an individual’s behaviour.

The nature and scope of consequent damages are not the main focus of negligence actions, even if they must be demonstrated to be compensated in a negligence action. One facet of the law of liability is the common law doctrine of carelessness. The nature and magnitude of consequent damages are not the main focus of negligence proceedings, even though they must be established to receive compensation in a negligence action.

The behaviour standard is external. In general, the law simply looks at behavior—it doesn’t look at the excitability, ignorance, or stupidity that can lead to it. What the fictitious “reasonable person” would have done under the circumstance is what the courts ascertain. Such standards also require a certain amount of foresight in spotting other people’s irresponsibility, particularly when it comes to vulnerable populations like children.

The law uses the reasonable person test, an objective norm, to assess whether someone has behaved in a way that a reasonable person would have. The test is universally applicable due to its objectivity, transcending individual differences.

We will understand the concept of negligence in detail through the case of ‘Donoghue v. Stevenson’. 


The case of Donoghue v. Stevenson is an essential case for the doctrine of negligence in tort law. This landmark 1932 ruling, based on an apparently insignificant incident in a Scottish café, initiated a significant shift in tort law, focusing primarily on the development and application of the duty of care doctrine.


Mrs. Donoghue’s companion purchased a ginger beer for her from the Wellmeadow Café in Paisley on August 26, 1928. The bottle was constructed out of dark opaque glass, and she drank nearly half of it before the rest was transferred into a tumbler. This was when the decaying shell of a snail floated out, allegedly shocking her and giving her terrible gastroenteritis.

Mrs. Donoghue could not bring a claim for a breach of warranty because she was not a party to any contracts. She consequently filed a lawsuit against Stevenson, the manufacturer, and it finally made it to the House of Lords.


The challenge for the House of Lords was whether, in the absence of contractual duties, the manufacturer owed Mrs. Donoghue a duty of care, defying established case doctrine. Donoghue was just a test subject to see whether or not she had a claim; she was not entitled to any compensation.


It could be interpreted as being so restrictive as to prohibit selling Scottish widows opaque ginger beer bottles containing the decaying remains of a deceased snail.

The decision had several components which were as follows: First, the establishment of a duty does not necessitate a legally enforceable agreement; second, carelessness is a different and distinct tort; and third, manufacturers owe a duty to the end users of their products.

Lord Atkin observed ‘‘…a manufacturer of products, which he sells…to reach the ultimate consumer in the form which left him…owes a duty of care to the consumer”. In other words, the maker is responsible for ensuring all potential customers’ safety. As a result, this case opened up many opportunities for consumer rights and protection.


A few years earlier, in Mullen, Lord Ormidale stated, “… it would appear to be reasonable and equitable to hold that, in the circumstances and apart altogether from contract, there exists a relationship of duty as between the maker and the consumer of the beer.” Donoghue was not the first case to attempt to branch off the reliance of negligence on contract.  The doctrine is therefore grounded in morality and the law. It is impossible to overstate the significance of Donoghue on tort law; it was a turning point that essentially separated tort from contract law.

But it’s crucial to keep in mind that Donoghue was a turning point for a novel theory that required improvement. As Lord Reid put it, “the famous line in Lord Atkin’s speech should, I believe, be regarded as a statement of principle.” It should not be interpreted in the same way as a statutory definition. In the new conditions, it will need to be qualified.

As we can see, there are two more conditions that must be met before any situation can give rise to a duty of care, in addition to the foreseeability of damage: the parties must be in a relationship that the law defines as “proximity” or “neighbourhood,” and the circumstance must be one in which the court finds it reasonable, fair, and fair for the law to impose a duty of a specific scope on one party for the benefit of the other.

The general body of law has been affected by the Donoghue ruling. To some people’s advantage and disadvantage, it effectively gave rise to a new field of law.


Thus, Donoghue v. Stevenson effectively establishes a criterion for the duty of care. However, the set criterion began to become overly simplistic as legal convulsions increased. 

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