One of the first articles which I wrote for this Blog concerned the liability of producers and suppliers for foreign or dangerous objects.
The article had been inspired by an incident at a Primark store where a member of the public had sensationally discovered part of a human finger bone in a pair of socks.
This gave me a very convenient opening to review the area of product liability. The leading case, of course, is Donoghue v Stevenson  AC 562,  SC (HL) 31,  ScLT 317 or the ‘snail in the ginger beer bottle’. This decision of the House of Lords established the foundations of the modern law of negligence – in Scotland and in England.
Mrs Donoghue did not have a contract of sale with Mr Minchella, the seller of the lemonade bottle and, therefore, she could not bring a claim for damages in terms of the (then) Sale of Goods Act 1893. Even today, Mrs Donoghue would not have a remedy against the seller under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
So, who could Mrs Donoghue bring a claim against? The manufacturer would seem to be the logical response to this question, but this is the application of hindsight in late 2019. Several years before the Donoghue case, a claim against a manufacturer for harm caused by a dangerous product had been comprehensively rejected by the Inner House of the Court of Session (see Mullen v A G Barr & Co Ltd  SC 461). The House of Lords was, therefore, breaking new legal ground when it found in Mrs Donoghue’s favour against Stevenson, the manufacturer of the lemonade bottle. Stevenson owed a duty of care to the ultimate consumer of the product – irrespective of whether this individual had a contract of sale with the company.
Since Donoghue v Stevenson, this area of the law has developed considerably with the UK Parliament passing the Consumer Protection Act 1987. Part 1 of this Act established a regime of strict liability in relation to dangerous products. Previously, the claimant would be required to prove fault on the part of the manufacturer.
Theoretically, it’s now much easier for a consumer to win a claim against a manufacturer (or someone in the chain of supply) if s/he have suffered injury or damage to property as a result of exposure to dangerous products.
Returning to Primark, the company and the Police have conducted an investigation into the incident and they have not been able to establish responsibility, anywhere in the chain of supply, for the bone’s inclusion in the pair of socks.
It looks as if the affair will go down as one of life’s unsolved mysteries.
A link to the latest developments in the Primark case can be found below:
Related Blog article:
Copyright – Seán J Crossan, 30 December 2019