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Could the makers of ‘Becks’ beer see another ‘Donoghue v Stevenson’

The famous case which set the foundation of the tort of negligence as well as duty of care relating to a ‘neighbour’ is the case of Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562. The facts were that on 26 August 1928, Ms Donoghue drank a bottle of ginger beer, manufactured by Stevenson, which her friend had bought from a retailer and given to her. The bottle contained the decomposed remains of a snail which were not and could not be detected until the greater part of the contents of the bottle had been consumed. As a result , Ms Donoghue alleged that she suffered from shock and severe gastro enteritis. She successfully sued the makers of the ginger beer for injuries sustained by drinking the ginger beer and was awarded damages in the amount of £500

It seems history has a way of repeating itself, As reported on 30 January 2012, the Brewery giant AB InBev, is investigating a complaint lodged with the Australian distributor Lion Nathan that a Beck’s beer contained a ‘glob’.

The facts as reported are, a man (unnamed) drank a small amount from a Beck’s beer bottle and immediately spat out the contents complaining that the beer was ‘foul tasting’. When the wife started to pour out the contents of the beer into the kitchen sink,  an object allegedly resembling the shape of a Mushroom and foul smelling, fell out. The ‘glob’, as the complaint identifies the object as, is now under investigation by Lion Nathan, the Australian distributor of Beck’s beer.

On initial findings, Lion Nathan found that they were not directly responsible for the alleged contamination because the bottle had been brought into the country by another retailer. A spokeswoman for Lion Nathan said in a Ninemsn article published on Monday, 30 January 2012 “Upon further investigation we have determined this product was a parallel import not produced by Lion in Australia, meaning the consumer’s best course of action is to return the product to the store it was purchased from.”

If the unnamed man were to proceed with his complaint to sue for injuries he may have sustained the question now arises, who will he proceed against?

Ultimately, the unnamed person could proceed against the manufacturer, the importer and/or the proprietor who sold the liquor to him. The manufacturer would ideally be the most suitable defendant and is likely,  on the balance of probabilities, to be held to have owed a duty of care for any damages sustained by the unnamed. This duty entails the proper checking of beer bottles to make sure that no foreign objects are present which could cause injury to another party. The duty however, could be extended to the importer who imported the beer into the country and provided it to the proprietor to sell, or at a slim stretch, the proprietor for facilitating the sale of the beer to the unnamed with the foreign object. The only foreseeable hurdle with suit being filed against the manufacturer is their location, which would result in some logistical hurdles, however they are still able to be sued regardless of the fact they are located overseas.

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Charles Lethbridge

Charles Lethbridge

  • Senior Associate
  • Commercial Litigation
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