One of the most famous cases in legal history was heard in the House of Lords (the UK's then highest court) 85 years ago last week.
Donoghue v Stevenson is a case which flows off the tongue of any law student as the start of the modern law of negligence. It concerned a snail which was found in a bottle of ginger beer used for an ice cream float. Mrs Donoghue drank it and unsurprisingly suffered ill-effects (snails not been generally a good thing to have on your ice cream), but couldn't make a claim based on contract law, as the ginger beer had been actually bought by her friend.
The House of Lords thought this unacceptable and so decided that a new system needed to be created - the law of negligence. As Lord Atkin stated "You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour."
The law of negligence has exploded in the last 85 years and is used for everything from defective goods to road accidents. Not a bad legacy for a humble snail...
Lord Atkin of Aberdovey, one of the greatest judges of the twentieth century, was on the panel who heard the appeal. On 26th May 1932, he found in favour of May Donoghue and rose to give the leading judgment in the case. "The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law 'You must not injure your neighbour'; and the lawyer's question: 'Who is my neighbour?' receives a restricted reply. "You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour." And with those words the modern law of negligence was born.