Negligence under Torts Law : Landmark Judgements & Case Laws analysis

Donogue v Stevenson [1932] A.C. 562.

Facts of the Case

Mrs Donoghue’s acquaintance bought her a ginger beer from Paisley’s Wellmeadow Café on August 26, 1928. She only drank approximately half of the bottle, which was made of black opaque glass, before pouring the rest into a tumbler. The decomposing remnants of a snail floated out at this point, allegedly giving her shock and severe gastroenteritis.

Mrs Donoghue was unable to make a claim for breach of warranty of contract due to the fact that she was not a party to any contract. As a result, she brought legal action against Stevenson, the manufacturer, which went all the way to the House of Lords.

Issues at hand

The House of Lords was asked if, according to accepted case law, the manufacturer owed Mrs Donoghue a duty of care in the absence of contractual obligations. Donoghue was essentially a test case to see if she had a claim, not if she was entitled to pay for her losses. The law of negligence was quite restrictive at the time, and it could only be used if there was a pre-existing contractual connection.


The House of Lords was asked if, according to accepted case law, the manufacturer owed Mrs Donoghue a duty of care in the absence of contractual obligations. Donoghue was essentially a test case to see if she had a claim, not if she was entitled to pay for her losses.

The law of negligence was quite restrictive at the time, and it could only be used if there was a pre-existing contractual connection. An earlier case involving two children and floating mice held that: Absent a contract, a manufacturer owed no duty of care to a consumer when putting a product on the market, except: If the manufacturer was aware that the product was dangerous due to a defect and concealed it from the consumer (i.e., fraud); or If the product was dangerous per se and the manufacturer failed to warn the consumer of this.

The primary result of Donoghue, and what it is best known for, is Lord Atkin’s further development of the neighbour principle. According to Lord Atkin, one must take reasonable precautions to avoid acts or omissions that may reasonably cause harm to one’s neighbour. On the point of who exactly would constitute as one’s neighbour, Lord Atkin stated that neighbours would be those who are so closely and immediately impacted by one’s conduct that one ought fairly to think of them as being affected by their actions. The House of Lords thus concluded that Mrs Donoghue had established that she had a legal cause of action based on her claims.


Donoghue’s decision has rippled across the legal system. To the profit and injury of some, it effectively spawned a new field of law. Personal injury, for example, is based on both statutory responsibility and the “neighbour concept.” What emerges is that, in addition to the foreseeability of damage, there must be a ‘proximity’ or ‘neighbourhood’ relationship between the party owing the duty and the party to whom it is owed, and the situation must be one in which the court considers it fair, just, and reasonable to impose a duty of a given scope on the one party.

Ishwar Devi Malik and Ors. v Union of India AIR 1969 Del 183

Brief Facts of the Case

This case went in appeal before Delhi High Court against an order of the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal. The appeal was filed by six heirs of the deceased claiming compensation of Rs. 4,50,000 in lieu of the accident causing the death of the deceased person at Farash Khana Bus Stop. According to the applicants’ affidavit, the deceased was 40 years old and had a company that paid him roughly Rs 1700 per month.

He was waiting for a bus at the above-mentioned bus stop. Soon after, a bus with the number DLP 230 arrived at the Bus Stop, and as the deceased stepped onto the vehicle’s footboard, the conductor rang the bell in a hasty and haphazard way, despite the fact that the deceased had not yet entered the bus, and the driver began driving. The applicants further claimed that after a period of time, the said Bus driver proceeded through another bus that was quite near to the deceased, causing him to get sand-witched between the two vehicles, resulting in major chest injuries and his death.

The applicants thus submitted that the death of the deceased was caused due to negligence on the part of the bus driver and conductor.

Issues at Hand

The crucial dealt with in this particular case have been enumerated below:

i.) Whether the deceased, Sham Lal Malik, died as a result of the driver and conductor acting rashly and negligently.

ii.) Is it possible that Sham Lal Malik (deceased) committed contributory negligence?

iii.) What is the amount of compensation that should be provided to the applicants, and who should be responsible for paying it?


The first and second problems were examined jointly by the Court since they are linked in some way. The dead boarded the bus while it was still going, but while he was still placing his foot in the vehicle, and most of his body parts were lying outside the bus, according to the Court. Knowing this information, the conductor rang the bell, and the driver began driving the bus.

This conductor’s action was rash and negligent. While driving by the side of another standing Bus, the driver likewise acted rashly and negligently by not allowing appropriate clearance. Regarding the issue of contributing carelessness on the side of the dead, Sham Lal Malik, the Court held that the bus remained immobile when the aforementioned individual entered it, hence contributory negligence was not an issue.

For the purpose of determining compensation, the Court used the concept that the monetary loss to the applicants must be calculated by proportioning the loss to them of future financial benefits and the pecuniary gain that came to them as a result of death. The Court ordered compensation to be paid to the deceased’s wife and children in the sum of Rs 25,500 apiece, based on the Court’s estimates, and also ordered Rs 6,375 to be paid to the deceased’s mother and father, Sham Lal Malik.


Through this case, the Court highlighted the principle that the safety of passengers using public transportation should be the first priority for anybody in charge of public transportation. Both the driver and the bus conductor were held accountable for their reckless and careless actions, according to the Court. The Court also decided that the deceased, Sham Lal Malik, was not guilty of any contributory negligence. In addition, the Court ruled that all of the petitioners be compensated. The court ruled that the Delhi Municipal Corporation and the Delhi Transport Undertaking are responsible for compensating the claims.

Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Subhagwanti, AIR 1966 SC 1750

Brief Facts of the Case

The respondents filed three lawsuits for damages on behalf of the families of three people who died as a result of the fall of the appellant-Clock Corporation’s Tower at Chandni Chowk, Delhi, which belonged to the appellant-Corporation, previously the Municipal Committee of Delhi. The building was 80 years old, and the top storey’s construction could only last 40 to 45 years due to the type of mortar used, while the middle storey may be salvaged for another 10 years.

The top half of the Clock Tower collapsed owing to the push of the arches. If an expert had evaluated this structure particularly, for this reason, he may have discovered that it was prone to collapse. When the structure was examined after the collapse, it was discovered that it had degraded to the point that it had been reduced to powder and lacked any cementing characteristics.

Issues at Hand

Some of the points of law discussed in the case have been enumerated below and captured in form of issues.

i.) Will the res ipsa loquitur doctrine be applied?

ii.) If the appellant, as the owner of the Clock Tower bordering the highway, is obligated to keep it in good condition so that no member of the public using the highway is injured, and whether the appellant is accountable whether the defect is apparent or latent?

iii.) Whether the appellant was negligent in maintaining the Clock Tower, and hence responsible to pay damages for the deaths of the people who died as a result of its collapse?


An exception to the general rule that the plaintiff bears the burden of proof of the alleged negligence in the first instance occurs when the facts are such that the proper and natural thesis immediately arising from them is that the injury complained of was caused by the defendant’s negligence, or when the event charged as negligence tells its own story of defendant’s negligence, the story so told being clear and not ambiguous. The maxim res ipsa loquitur is applicable in these types of instances. When the rule is used, the defendant faces a presumption of guilt, which must be overcome by contrary evidence if he is to prevail in his defence, with the defendant’s responsibility being to prove how the conduct complained of might plausibly occur without his carelessness.

According to the law, the owner of neighbouring properties has specific responsibility for the safety of the structures that he maintains away from the roadway. If these buildings deteriorate to the point where they pose a risk to passers-by or become a nuisance, the owner is responsible for anybody harmed on the roadway as a result of the deterioration. The owner cannot argue that he was unaware of the danger or should have been aware of it in such a circumstance. To put it another way, whether the damage is caused by a patent or a latent fault, the owner is legally accountable.

The Court of Appeals held that the defendant was liable for negligence and that if premises on a highway become dangerous and thus a nuisance due to a lack of repairs, and a passer-by or an adjoining owner is injured as a result of the collapse, the occupier or owner if he has undertaken the duty of repair, is responsible whether he knew of the danger or not.


Here the appellant could not have contended that there was any unforeseeable earthquake, storm, or another natural phenomenon that caused the Clock Tower to topple. The sheer fact that the Clock Tower fell tells its own tale in drawing an inference of carelessness and establishing a prima facie case against the appellant in these circumstances.

Given that the building had reached the normal age at which the mortar could be expected to deteriorate, it was the appellant’s responsibility to conduct a careful and periodic inspection to determine whether deterioration had occurred and whether any precautions were required to strengthen the structure.

Chapman v Hearse [1961] 106 CLR 112

Brief Facts of the Case

Chapman was driving carelessly and collided with the vehicle in front of him. Chapman was thrown out into the road when the door to his car was pushed open. Dr. Cherry, a bystander, stopped his car and rushed to Chapman’s rescue shortly after. Dr. Cherry was ministering to Chapman when Hearse carelessly ran over him, killing him. Dr. Cherry’s widow was successful in her lawsuit against Hearse, and she obtained full compensation. Hearse’s insurers subsequently filed a claim against Chapman for Hearse’s contribution. The right to recover depends on whether Chapman would have been responsible if Dr Cherry’s widow had sued him.

Issue at Hand

In these conditions, may Hearse’s insurance make a claim against Chapman?


It is not necessary to show that the precise manner in which a plaintiff’s injuries were sustained was reasonably foreseeable in order to establish a duty of care with respect to a plaintiff injured as a result of a defendant’s carelessness; rather, it is sufficient in the circumstances to ask whether a consequence of the same general character as that which followed was reasonably foreseeable. It makes no difference whether Dr. Cherry was a doctor or whether Chapman was dumped on the roadway. What matters is whether a reasonable person might anticipate, as a result of such an accident, the presence on the road of those who have a moral and social obligation to assist individuals who are handicapped or otherwise harmed.

When the circumstances as they were on the night in question are considered, there can be no doubt that passing vehicles may injure people offering help following an accident.

When Chapman was driving carelessly, he could not have reasonably expected the convoluted sequence of circumstances, but he might have foreseen the overall type of events that would end in someone being injured. Chapman is therefore accountable for Hearse’s losses.


This case played a pivotal role in emphasizing the aspect of reasonable foreseeability in cases of negligence. The Courts have followed this case and often relied on the aspect of reasonable foreseeability while determining liability and compensation.

Levi v Colgate-Palmolive Pty Ltd. [1941] 41 SR (NSW) 48

Brief Facts of the Case

The defendants gave the plaintiff a complimentary package of bath salts. The plaintiff thereafter dissolved the majority of the bath salts in a warm bath and sat in it for 20 minutes. Subsequently, she felt tingling on her skin while taking a bath. When she awoke, she saw that her face and other portions of her body had become a bright crimson colour. The redness persisted and spread, and a bothersome itch formed, which lasted for a long time. She tried to bring a lawsuit against the defendant for her injuries.

Issue at Hand

Was the plaintiff’s injury fairly foreseeable, given her vulnerable circumstances?


When an act is incapable of damaging a normal person, the person who performs it bears no obligation to do more just because a person with abnormal vulnerability may be harmed. Specific circumstances may necessitate taking extra efforts to protect abnormal people who are likely to be harmed, but the sheer presence of abnormal people in the community does not imply a special duty of care. Persons who trade-in and provide common foodstuffs and household items are under no need to offer warnings that their usage may cause discomfort or damage to atypical people who may be allergic to them. According to this standard, the plaintiff’s damage was not reasonably foreseeable, therefore the defendant had no duty of care.


This case made an exception to the rule of reasonable foreseeability by excluding the category of people who are exceptionally sensitive or vulnerable. Therefore, while determining the liability and compensation amount, Courts must always check whether the harm caused would have affected any ordinary person or is the plaintiff especially vulnerable.

Glasgow Corp. v Muir [1943] A.C. 488

The defendant Corporation tea-rooms manager allowed a picnic party of 30 to 40 people who had been caught in the rain. Two picnickers carried a large urn with six to nine litres of tea to the tearoom through a hallway where several youngsters were purchasing sweets and ice cream. Six children, including the plaintiff, Eleanor Muir, were hurt when one of the people lost control of the urn’s handle. The manageress could not have predicted that such an event would occur as a result of the tea urn being carried down the corridor, hence she had no obligation to take safeguards. As a result, neither the Manager nor the Corporation could be held responsible for negligence and the harm caused.

Union of India v Supriya Ghosh and Ors. AIR 1973 Pat 129

Subhabrata Ghosh was driving a car when it was hit by a postal train on February 17, 1961, about 8.45 p.m. while passing through a railway level crossing. Mr Ghosh was critically hurt and eventually died while being transported to the hospital after the automobile was wrecked. In a lawsuit filed by the widow, Supriya Ghosh, and others against the Union of India, as the North Eastern Railway’s owners, the plaintiffs claimed that the level crossing was unmanned and the gates were open at the time the train passed through and that this fact constituted negligence on the part of the railway servant.

The evidence proved that the deceased had no contributory fault since he couldn’t see the railway line from afar because his view was covered by trees, etc., and he couldn’t hear the impending mail train because he was in the car with the engine running and the glass closed. The railway administration’s failure to close the level crossing gate as the train was set to approach was deemed negligent, and the defendants were found accountable.

The Municipal Board, Jaunpur v Brahm Kishore AIR 1973 Pat 168

On a public road, the defendant dug a trench. The plaintiff, who was out on a bike ride in the evening, was unable to see the ditch in the darkness and fell into it, injuring himself. The defendant was held accountable because he neglected to provide a light, a warning indicator, a caution notice, or a barrier, among other things, to avoid similar incidents. It was also noted that the fact that the rider had no light attached to the front of the bike made no difference because the light from the kerosene lamp, which cyclists commonly use, could not make the ditch visible.

Nirmala v Tamil Nadu Electricity Board AIR 1984 Mad 201

The plaintiff’s spouse was working on his farm while working as an Assistant Professor at Coimbatore Agricultural College. On the 20th of October, 1998, high tension wires carrying 440 watts cracked and fell over the property. He stepped on a high-tension wire that had cracked, and he died instantly from electrocution. The fact that the high tension wire had cracked and dropped was enough to establish that the defendants were negligent in maintaining those cables.

It was also discovered that no precautions had been taken in this situation to ensure that in the event of a wire cracking and tumbling down, the electric energy supply would be automatically disconnected. Furthermore, the defendant had taken no simple precaution of inspecting wires on a regular basis to verify that there was no realistic risk of the wires cracking and tumbling down. The case was determined to be a clear example of res ipsa loquitur, in which the defendants failed to disprove the inference of carelessness and were therefore held accountable.

Paris v Stepney Borough Council [1951] A.C. 397

The plaintiff worked for the defendants and had only one healthy eye, according to the defendants’ knowledge. The nature of this plaintiff’s employment posed some danger of eye harm, but the risk was not high enough to justify the provision of goggles to workers who had both eyes in good working order. The plaintiff’s good eye was gravely wounded during the work, and as a result, he went completely blind. The defendants were found liable because, knowing the plaintiff’s handicap, they should have equipped him with goggles (which they did not), because the loss of that one eye would render him completely blind.



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