The trail of the snail: Reflections on negligence law

11 July 2017

Sir Grant Hammond

Did you hear the one about the Scotswoman, the snail and the bottle of ginger? Sir Grant Hammond, Professor of Law and Judicial Studies at the University of Waikato knows it well. It’s a story that set the course of negligence law to this very day and he will be shedding more light on this famous case at his Inaugural Professorial Lecture on 18 July.

The most famous litigant of all time in the western world, May Donoghue, consumed a bottle of ginger beer in a Glasgow café in 1928. There was, allegedly, a decomposed snail in the bottle and she subsequently became ill. She was destitute, divorced, and a single parent. But against all odds, she pursued a claim against the drink manufacturer to the highest court in the UK, the House of Lords, and prevailed.

The case made legal history. “The decision defined the duty of care a provider owes the end user, which has rolled down the years throughout the common law world,” says Sir Grant.

This is perhaps most apparent in places like the US, where litigation rulings carrying big settlements often make headlines. “But have we taken it too far and what are we doing to change it?”

New Zealand’s various Accident Compensation Acts have changed the way litigation law is viewed in this country. “The ACC act changes the game for us, but it too has its flaws.”

While writing his second book at Oxford, Sir Grant stumbled upon some little-known facts about the case. “It’s really a fascinating story, but there’s still a lot of background which has never been widely revealed and the full story deserves to be told.”

Sir Grant’s appointment to Waikato is somewhat of a homecoming. He grew up on his parent’s farm in Te Awamutu and was head boy at Te Awamutu College. He studied and practised law in New Zealand and the US and took his first academic appointments in Canada. Sir Grant returned to New Zealand becoming Dean of Law at the University of Auckland.

He was appointed to the High Court of New Zealand in 1992, and to the Court of Appeal in 2002. In 2010 he became a Judge of the Court of Appeal of Samoa, an office he still holds. In 2011 he was appointed President of the Law Commission of New Zealand, serving two terms, and in the same year was knighted for ‘services to law’. In 2014 he was conferred a Doctor of Laws by the University of Waikato, the highest degree in law and the first to be awarded by the University. He later joined the University of Waikato in 2016.

Sir Grant is a specialist in judicial remedies and throughout his extensive career has published three books and more than 50 law review articles.

Sir Grant Hammond’s Inaugural Professorial Lecture The trail of the snail: Reflections on negligence law is on Tuesday 18 July starting at 5.15pm in the Concert Chamber at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato. It is free and open to the public. Parking is free after 4.30pm in the University of Waikato’s Gate 1 (Knighton Road) carpark.