Cases that every law student should know

Many jurisdictions rely on the doctrine of precedent as a source of law. This means that judges look to previous cases for guidance on their decisions. In this article, we look at several cases that have made an impact on English and Welsh law as well as the law in many other countries.

Law cases for TOLES students

Donoghue v Stevenson

Every law student in this country covers tort law as a mandatory module - and every one of them knows the case involving the ginger beer and the decomposed snail from 1932.


This was a landmark case (determining a pivotal point of law) and was heard at the House of Lords, which at the time was the final appeal court.


Mrs Donoghue drank from a bottle of ginger beer bought by a friend of hers. As she drank from the opaque bottle, part of a snail fell out and Mrs Donoghue fell ill. The question was whether Mr Stevenson owed a duty of care to the eventual consumer of the beer. The House of Lords ruled that he did.

Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company

This case is typically the first case that a student studies in contract law and relates to unilateral contracts, i.e. contracts between one person and the world.


In 1892, the House of Lords held that an advertisement with clear and specific terms could be deemed an offer. If somebody performed the terms then a contract had been created.


Mrs Carlill bought the "smoke ball", which was a device that one inserted into one's nose and then the user would blow vapours up their nose. Mrs Carlill did this over several months but then caught the flu. She sued the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company and won her claim.


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Cases for TOLES students

Salomon v Salomon

This case is one for Business English students as well as TOLES learners.


This case from 1897 is a landmark case in company law and affirmed the idea that a limited company has a separate legal persona distinct from its shareholders. Therefore, shareholders have limited liability and, in most circumstances, cannot be held liable for the debts of the company beyond the money that they had invested.

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