Every year, hundreds (if not thousands) of personal injury claims are filed in courthouses all over New York State. Everywhere we turn, we see billboards, television commercials and online advertisements promoting law firms that promise to protect your rights and pursue your claim if you’re injured in a car accident or harmed by medical malpractice.
Personal injury law has been around in one form or another since the Middle Ages. In the 1600s, English Common Law adopted an important principle called Res Ipsa Loquitur, which is Latin for “the thing itself speaks.” This concept stated that when something does not happen naturally, someone must be responsible. Examples included pedestrians injured by inattentive wagon drivers or a house builder dropping a heavy tool on someone’s head.
Even as early as the 1600s’, people who suffered wage loss due to someone else’s actions could be awarded compensation by a court, but few plaintiffs had the time or money to pursue a claim, and by the early 1900s, personal injury cases were still comparatively rare. They also followed rigid principles that could be difficult to meet. Then the case of Donoghue v. Stevenson appeared in 1932 and changed the face of personal injury law.
The case, which occurred in 1928 in Paisley, Scotland, started when a woman named May Donoghue drank a bottle of ginger beer that a friend purchased for her. It wasn’t until the bottle was mostly empty that she saw a decomposing snail inside. She hadn’t noticed it earlier because the glass was too opaque.
Mrs. Donoghue became ill. After a doctor diagnosed gastroenteritis, she sued the drink manufacturer for £500 in damages.
In situations like these, plaintiffs normally collected damages by suing for breach of contract, but because she hadn’t bought the bottle, this avenue was unavailable to her. Instead, she and her legal counsel argued that her illness had been caused by negligence on the part of the drink manufacturer, who had also breached his duty of care to a customer.
Mrs. Donoghue’s claim initially failed, but when it was appealed before the House of Lords, they ruled that the company producing the ginger beer did owe a duty of care to her and breached it by allowing the beverage to be contaminated.
Donoghue v. Stevenson was a pivotal case in personal injury history because it established negligence as a tort and created a precedent for the idea that negligence could impact parties beyond those immediately involved in the transaction. Although Mrs. Donoghue had not bought the ginger beer, the manufacturer’s negligence still affected her, and she could pursue remedies.
The case occurred in Scotland, but it inspired the “neighbor principle” now recognized in U.S. law. This principle states that a person must take reasonable steps to refrain from actions or omissions that could foreseeably injure someone else.
If you were injured in an accident or at the hands of a doctor, then be sure to seek medical care. Next, contact a qualified accident or personal injury lawyer. You may be entitled to a settlement to compensate you for lost wages, medical bills and pain and suffering. Jayson Lutzky is an experienced Bronx attorney who has helped many clients over the past 35+ years obtain the compensation they deserve. Visit www.MyNewYorkCityLawyer.com/Accidents to learn more or call 718-329-9500 to set up a free in-person consultation.