Fly in the Ointment Water

The case of Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada Ltd. (2006 CanLII 41807 (ON C.A.)) is an interesting one. Unlike the ginger beer bottle, where there apparently was no snail at all, this bottle of water did in fact sport a fly. The plaintiff had been purchasing water from the defendant company for sixteen years. The discovery of the fly upset Mr. Mustapha so considerably that he became seriously depressed; he sued for and won some $300,000 in damages for, among other things, his nervous shock. The Court of Appeal overturned the trial judgement, finding that there was no liability in law, whether in contract or tort.

The gist of the matter, without getting into the thing at any depth (because I don’t know the law here) has to do with the particular psychological vulnerability of the plaintiff. One used to say when I was in law school that you took your plaintiffs as you found them, brittle brain pans and all; but the “thin-skulled plaintiff” doesn’t work, apparently, for what is still regarded as a non-physical injury. (It was accepted by everyone that Mr. Mustapha’s debility was real and serious.) The injury had to be forseeable, and, according to Blair, J.A., writing for the Court, it was not.

There are some serious issues at play here; unsurprisingly, perhaps, the Supreme Court has granted leave to appeal.

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