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Ratio decidendi


1.      The case was decided in Supreme Court of Western Australia.  The plaintiff was Mr O¡¦Dwyer.  The defendant was Leo Buring Pty Ltd.  Hale, J judged the case.  The plaintiff won. 

2.      The plaintiff (consumer) bought a bottle of wine from the defendant (manufacturer).  The plaintiff was injured from the ejection of a hidden stopper when he opened the bottle at his home.  He was a new consumer not familiar with the characteristic and intended ejection of the bottle, which would be a foreseeable occurrence by experienced wine drinker.  The plaintiff sued the defendant for absence of warning.  The defendant argued that it was the negligence of the plaintiff not to take precaution for the injury as it was reasonably foreseeable occurrence with actual knowledge and hence no warning was required.  At last the plaintiff was entitled to recover damages.  

3.      The plaintiff argued that the defendant owed a duty of care to give appropriate warning for possible danger from unknown and hidden defects.    

4.      Case citations facilitate legal research and finding cases.  It is most the case that the conditions were obiter dicta as they were used as reference and comment and not the decision in the case. 

Appropriate precaution would include warning for possible danger from the intended ejection, instruction to open the bottle, and the bottle to be designed with noticeable stopper. 

The conditions are restated as following: 

(i)                  Should it be the negligence from the plaintiff not to take precaution for this reasonably foreseeable occurrence?  It was unrealistic to assume that a new consumer would foresee the occurrence of the possible danger to take any precaution.  

(ii)                Should the injury be reasonably foreseeable by the plaintiff?  It was unrealistic to expect the plaintiff to foresee such an injury in an instantaneous ejection of the stopper when he knew nothing about the characteristic of the bottle. 

(iii)               Would there be possible any accidents other than this occur in the same occurrence?  The judge did not specify except the one happened.

(iv)              Was the defect hidden and unknown to the plaintiff?  The plaintiff was not aware of the possible danger as he was not familiar with the type of sealing including the hidden and unknown defect. 

5.      The defendant argued that the bottle did not constitute a danger and the plaintiff should have actual knowledge so notice or warning was unnecessary.  Hence it was totally the plaintiff¡¦s negligence not to take precaution. 

The judge responded that the plaintiff was in a new class of consumers so his ignorance of the characteristic and the intended ejection of the bottle was reasonable.  Although general class of consumers would aware the characteristic, it did not mean warning was not required as the effect would be correspondingly little care handled by new consumers. 

6.      Ratio decidendi refers to the essence of legal principles applied in the reasoning of a judgment in a particular case, which also formed the binding element in the case.

Ratio decidendi drawn from the case may be generalized as simply: ¡¥Manufacturer is liable to provide appropriate warning, notice or instruction on consumable goods with hidden defects or any intended behavior which may cause personal injury or accidents even in a reasonably foreseeable occurrence to most consumers¡¦.

7.      The special damages award included medical and similar expenses, two trips from Bridgetown to Perth, five similar trips and wages to make up total £287 4s.

General damages were assessed based on doctrine of precedent that bound to follow the previous decision of a higher court on similar facts.  In the case, it was bound by High Court in Halley v Chudleigh[1].

[1] [1963] ALR 616


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