The Woman Who Found a Snail in Her Soda and Launched a Million Lawsuits
Sixty-six years before the infamous spilled McDonald’s coffee, May Donoghue drank a ginger beer with a dead mollusk in it and changed personal-injury law forever.
Illustrations by Min Heo
May Donoghue was not the weak-natured type.
Growing up with little and losing three babies in their infancy, Donoghue had overcome a lifetime’s worth of hardships by the time she was 30. But she was not prepared for the snail.
Donoghue spied the decomposing gastropod, mixed with bits of ice cream, bobbing in a glass of ginger beer that she had been sipping at the Wellmeadow Café in Paisley, a small Scottish town not far from where she grew up. The sight of it would continue to haunt the Scottish woman for years to come.
When Donoghue and her friend complained about the snail to Wellmeadow Café owner Francis Minghella, they received barely a shrug and “well, it happens” in response. Donoghue wrote down the name of the ginger beer producer — Stevenson — and left.
Three days after finding bits of dead mollusk in her drink, Donoghue visited a doctor for sharp pains shooting in her stomach.
Three weeks later, she was hospitalized at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary with sever…
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial