Abouzaid v Mothercare UK Ltd [2000] All E.R. D 246 is crucial in product liability law under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. It defines when a product is defective, based on consumer safety expectations, regardless of the manufacturer’s knowledge of potential issues. Read this summary to learn all about this case.

In the case of Abouzaid v Mothercare UK Ltd [2000] All E.R. D 246, it was held that a product would be defective under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 whether or not the producer learnt of the relevant hazard before damage had been caused. When deciding whether a manufacturer was negligent, however, a lack of comparable accidents could be considered.

Facts of the Case in Abouzaid v Mothercare UK Ltd

  • C tried to attach a product bought from D to a pushchair. One of the elastic straps slipped from his grasp and hit him in the eye.
  • C was taken to A&E. C was told his eye was not damaged and sent home with eye cream. Over the next 3 days, the eye became painful and C returned to hospital. He was referred to two eye specialist hospitals.
  • C was found to have lost useful vision in his injured eye. Medical evidence suggested that the delay in diagnosis did not influence the outcome.
  • C sued D as the producer of a defective product under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. C succeeded at first instance.
  • D appealed on the grounds that since scientific and technical knowledge (accident reports concerning the product) did not exist at the time of the accident.
  • As such, D claimed the defence that, as a manufacturer, it could not have been aware of the potential problems without notification from other accidents.

Issues in Abouzaid v Mothercare UK Ltd

  • Could D be held liable as the manufacturer of a defective product if the risk of injury stemming from the product had not been brought to D’s attention previously?

Held by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division)

  • Finding for C, that an identifiable risk exists. Whether or not D was aware of a particular defect was irrelevant to establishing liability under the 1987 Act since liability hinged upon the public’s expectations of safety.
  • Furthermore, accident reports were not, in the instant case, ‘technical knowledge’ for the purposes of the 1987 Act. There had been no progress in such knowledge since C’s accident. D could have discovered the danger prior to C’s accident. The fact that D had not appreciated that the risk existed was irrelevant.

Pill L.J.

  • Although the case is close to the borderline, the product was defective as outlined by the 1987 Act. The risk is losing control of an elastic strap at a time when it is stretched and eyes are in the line of recoil.
  • The product was defective because its design allowed the risk to arise and without any warning to customers. The public were entitled to expect better from D.
  • A factor in that expectation is the eye’s particular vulnerability and the consequences which can follow from blunt injury. Expectations would be different if the worst which could occur was impact on the hand. It is not necessary for the Court to determine precisely what more should have been done.
  • The defence D claims presupposes a finding of any defect. D seeks to rely on the absence in the DTI database of any record of comparable accidents at the time. Such records rank as ‘technical knowledge’ under the section, it is submitted. Only with such knowledge, D argues, might they have been expected to discover the defect.
  • “That argument fails first on the ground that the defect, as defined, was present whether or not previous accidents had occurred…the defect which gave rise to the risk was just as likely to lead to an accident in 1990 as it was in 1999. Knowledge of previous accidents is not an ingredient necessary to a finding that a defect, within the meaning of 1987 Act, is present. Different considerations apply to negligence in the common law where foreseeability of injury, as defined in the authorities, is a necessary ingredient. Secondly, I am very doubtful whether, in the present context, a record of accidents, comes within the category of ‘scientific and technical knowledge.’ The defence contemplates scientific and technical advances which throw additional light, for example, on the propensities of materials and allow defects to be discovered. There are no such advances here” [29].

Significance of the Case in Legal Development

Abouzaid v Mothercare UK Ltd has significantly influenced the interpretation of product liability:

  • Donoghue v Stevenson (1932): The foundational case in the law of negligence, especially for products, setting the precedent that manufacturers owe a duty of care to their consumers.
  • Grant v Australian Knitting Mills (1936): It extended the principles of Donoghue to include not just preparers of food but also manufacturers of products.
  • Richardson v LRC Products Ltd (2000): A case where the definition of defectiveness under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 was further examined, relevant for its proximity in time and context to Abouzaid.

Exam Questions and Answers

Below you will find answers to questions that are most commonly asked based on this case.

How does the Consumer Protection Act 1987 align with similar consumer protection laws in the EU or the US?

The Consumer Protection Act 1987 in the UK, examined in Abouzaid v Mothercare, is aligned with EU directives on product liability, which also focus on consumer safety as the paramount concern. However, it differs from US laws where the emphasis might also strongly weigh on the manufacturer’s ability to predict product defects, creating a nuanced landscape in product liability discussions.

What are the long-term effects of this case on product design and consumer safety measures in the manufacturing industry?

Since the ruling in Abouzaid v Mothercare, there has been a noticeable shift in how manufacturers approach product design and safety. Companies are increasingly proactive in conducting extensive safety tests and risk assessments before launching products to avoid potential liabilities and align with the strict standards set by the case.