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A Snake in the grass (or in this case, the broccoli!)

View profile for Cristina Parla
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Multinational supermarket chain Aldi recently made headlines when a customer found a live snake coiled inside a pack of shrink-wrapped broccoli which had been purchased from one of their stores.

The report sent legal tongues wagging and it has been described (informally) as a modern-day Donoghue v Stevenson (1932) – the snail in the ginger beer.

Donoghue v Stevenson is a landmark case in tort law as it established the general principle of duty of care.

Mrs Donoghue went to a café with her friend and consumed ginger beer from the bottle.  It was not until after she nearly finished the bottle, she noticed a decomposed snail floating in the liquid which she had poured into a glass.  As a result of consuming a product which was not fit for human consumption, she suffered physical injury, and she brought a claim for damages.

The legal bit

Duty of care in tort does not require a contractual relationship.  Accordingly, to establish a claim in negligence, a Claimant needs to establish that:

  • A duty of care exists;
  • That the duty of care has been breached; and
  • That breach has resulted in loss and damage.

In the case of Donoghue v Stevenson, the Court established the "neighbour principle".  This legal principle holds that a person owes a duty of care to those closely and directly affected by their actions.  The Court also established the principle of negligence and a person who breaches their duty of care and causes harm to another person can be held liable for damages.

Mrs Donoghue succeeded in her claim against the manufacturer and the case established the liability of manufacturers to consumers.

Is Aldi likely to be sued?

It is difficult to speculate whether Aldi is likely to be sued but from what we know, fortunately, the snake was discovered before it could cause any physical damage or harm.

However, there are some striking similarities to the snail in the ginger beer case and it is an important reminder to manufacturers of their duty of care to consumers and of their potential liability by failing to provide a system to ensure that their produce is fit for human consumption.

What about the snake?

For those concerned about the safety of the snake, it was taken to Dudley Zoo after being discovered.

How we can help

If you have suffered injury or illness through consumption of produce and wish to enquire about the possibility of a legal claim, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our personal injury team.