Thursday, March 11, 2010

A mule by any other name... a landmark law suit.

Betcha didn't see that coming.

I was going to talk about Bundaberg and Barritt's Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer, Australian and Bermudan (?) brewed respectively.

I was going to go on about the coolness factor of the form factor of the Bundaberg beer. That bottle! That cap! From there, I was going to transition smoothly into a discussion of the authenticity of Barritt's, to which I was introduced at a sadly missed Jamaican/Southern restaurant, Maroon's, in a drink they called the "Manchester" (which the rest of us would probably call a "Light and Stormy," if there were such a thing).

But instead I'm going to discuss a law suit. It's simple, really. As I was trolling about, searching for the perfect ginger beer image, not to mention the origin of the name "Moscow Mule," a cocktail of lime juice, vodka and ginger beer (if you're interested — Moscow because vodka is mostly ascribed to Russian origin and Mule for the kick of ginger beer), I stumbled onto something far more fascinating: the role of ginger beer in what seems to be considered one of the most famous common law cases in Great Britain. No kidding.

Evidently, in 1928, in a town called Paisley (and I'm pretty sure it's that paisley, but don't let me get off-track), near Glasgow in Scotland, two friends entered a cafe. Friend One ordered and paid for both of them, including an ice cream drink with ginger beer for Friend Two. The cafe owner brought their order and poured some of the soda out of its opaque bottle over ice cream in a glass and left the pair to their own devices. A few sips later, and Friend One considerately poured more soda out of the bottle for Friend Two. Lo and behold, along with the frothy liquid, out tumbled a snail. Actually, the decomposed remains of a snail.

A diagnosed case of gastroenteritis later for Friend Two (a Ms. Donoghue) and voila, law suit. Now that doesn't sound so interesting in our day and age, where we have customers suing restaurants because the coffee is hot. But, evidently, this was a landmark case for a several reasons. One, Ms. Donoghue brought suit against, not the abjectly apologetic cafe owner, but one Mssr. David Stevenson, an aerated water (I'm guessing that's soda by any other name) manufacturer in Paisley, and the source of the, ahem, enhanced ginger beer. Two, the grounds of the suit were the manufacturer's "duty of care" to the ultimate customer, the consumer of his product. Prior to this, although the concept of duty of care existed, it was closely proscribed, and this situation was far removed from precedent.

But justice, at least in this case, prevailed, and new case law was written and manufacturers everywhere (at least in the United Kingdom) became legally accountable to their ultimate customer, regardless of the layers of distribution behind which they tried to hide.

Okay, so it's no Inherit the Wind. But the next time you find something gross in your crunchy cheetos and you want to sue, you know who you have to thank for your odds of winning. The Paisley Snail. (You don't really want me to get into the earlier case, referenced by the judges, in the US — McPherson v. Buick — do you? It's not nearly as interesting as the snail.)

1 comment:

Mike said...

My favorite Ginger Beer is "Olde Tyme Jamaican Ginger Beer". Well perhaps I should say was since I haven't been able to find any in years.