Ten Strange Legal Disputes That Helped Define UK Law
Ten Strange Legal Disputes That Helped Define UK Law

The following are ten weird cases that help redefine UK law and its applicability

  1. Ormond v Payne, July 1789

In 1789, a London butcher George Ormond’s cart was hit by a royal carriage resulting in a broken leg for him. Ormond sued for damages and the defendant was Don Payne. Payne was in charge of the affairs of the Prince of Wales at Carlton House, making him legally responsible for the actions of the coachman in charge of the carriage, George Smith.

Ormond testified that the coachman had been intoxicated and in a hurry at the time of the accident.  The jury decided that Payne was liable for the coachman’s actions and awarded £100 in damages to Ormond.

Why it matters: The case establishes an owner could be held liable for the acts and omissions of a servant, making it the foundation  of personal injury law

  1. Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company, December 1892

The Carbolic Smoke Ball Company claimed that it had created a cure for flu and introduced a device which consisted of a small rubber ball and a tube that flushed carbolic acid into the user’s nose.

The company promised to pay £100 to anyone who got sick even after using the ball. Writer Elizabeth Carlill, got sick despite using the company’s device and so sued. The court deemed her to be entitled for the £100 as the company’s claim was an offer to “to all of the world”, which was accepted by her when she performed all the conditions stated.

Why it matters: Carlill became the first case which found that an offer was possible to be made to the whole world and that its acceptance could be communicated at the same time the performance is notified.

  1. Fisher v Bell, 10 November 1960

Under the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 it was an offence to sell certain weapons, such as flick knives. A Bristol shopkeeper James Bell displayed in his shop window a flick knife, with a price ticket of four shillings. This landed him in court as a chief inspector of police stated that the shopkeeper had broken the law .

The case rejected by the court as it was found that Bell hadn’t ‘offered’ the knives for sale. The law of contract holds that placing an item in a shop window only amounted to an ‘invitation to treat’, and an offer is made legally only when a customer offers money to purchase the item .

Why it matters : This case used contract law to offer an interpretation  of a criminal statute as the Act did not make “an offer or expose” a crime.

4.      Donoghue v Stevenson, 26 May 1932

One August afternoon in 1928, May Donoghue was drinking a ginger beer, which was bought for her by a friend. The bottle however contained the remains of a snail which made her seriously ill. However Donoghue couldn’t sue because she hadn’t bought the bottle herself. She therefore filed a claim of negligence against the manufacturer, stating that the company had a duty to make sure that products were made in a clean environment.

Lord Atkin developed the “neighbour principle” in this case, which states that “reasonable care must be taken to avoid acts that can be reasonably foreseen to be likely to injure your neighbour.” A settlement of £200 was given in the case.

Why it matters: This case severed the tort of negligence from contract law and extended negligence into new areas.

5. Sturges v Bridgman, 1 July 1879

A physician Dr Octavius Sturges, and a confectioner, Mr Bridgman, occupied adjacent premises in London. Bridgman had used two mortar and pestles for 20 years for his manufacturing process. The resulting sound did not bother the physician until he built a new consulting room, adjoining to the wall of the confectioner’s room.

The doctor was able to secure an injunction to stop the sounds as the confectioner did not have a right to make the noise despite long term usage of the machines.

Why it matters: This established that whether something is seen as a nuisance depends on its context.

  1. Fagan v Metropolitan Police Commissioner, 1 August 1968

 In 1968, Vincent Fagan drove his car accidentally on to the foot of a police officer David Morris. When Morris asked Fagan to move the car from his foot, Fagan took his time.

Fagan was charged and convicted of “assaulting a constable in execution of his duties”.  He appealed stating that it was an accident, so not moving the car was not an assault. The judge however found it was assault if someone accidently commits the crime but then fails to discontinue.

Why it matters: This case was the basis to develop the “doctrine of the continuing act”.

  1. Gorris v Smith, 23 April 1874

A ship owner transporting sheep lost a number of them after they were washed overboard during a storm.

The owner of the sheep sought damages stating that the ship owner was in breach of provisions under the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act 1869, which mandated pens to be used to transport animals on ships. According to him, if the sheep had been penned they would have survived.

The court however rejected the claim since the Act was created to prevent the risk of animals being exposed to disease, and not for preventing them from being washed overboard.

Why it matters: Here it was established that a party has the right to redress only “when the loss is of a kind contemplated by the statute that created the duty.”




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