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Product liability – retailers and manufacturers held liable for skin irritation caused by knitted garment.

The Facts

A chemical residue in a knitted undergarment caused severe dermatitis.


In a prolonged trial the Supreme Court of Southern Australia (Murray CJ) found both retailers and manufacturers liable.

Retailers were liable under the equivalent of the Sale of Goods Act 1893 and Manufacturers were liable in tort on the authority of Donoghue v Stevenson (snail in soda pop bottle case).

The Australian High Court (Starke, Dixon, McTiernan JJ; Evatt J dissenting) reversed the Supreme Court – essentially on the facts.  The Privy Council (Viscount Hailsham LC, Lords Blanesburgh, MacMillan, Wright and Sir Lancelot Sanderson) restored the court of first instance.


The following quotation from Lord Wright illustrates the distinction in English Law between fault and unlawfulness in tort: “The mere fact that a man is injured by another’s act gives in itself no cause of action:  if the act is deliberate, the party injured will have no claim in law even though the injury is intentional, so long as the other party is merely exercising a legal right:  if the act involves lack of due care, again no case of actionable negligence will arise unless the duty to be careful exists”.


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