In the case of Thomas v. Winchester (6 N.Y. 397 (1852)), Winchester mislabeled a bottle of poison as ‘dandelion oil’. A druggist sold the bottle to Thomas who was poisoned. Under the theory of privity based on Winterbottom v. Wright (10 M. & W. 109 (Exch. 1842)), Thomas would not be able to sue Winchester because Thomas did not buy the product from him and was not under contract (the druggist bought the bottle from Winchester and resold it.) However, the Court decided to make an exception to the privity requirement when the case was exceptionally egregious.

  • The druggist could not be held liable because it was unreasonable for him to be expected to test every single bottle. So even though the druggist was in privity with Thomas, he was not at fault. The responsible party was Winchester, so in the name of justice, the Court modified the rule to allow Thomas to recover.
  • The later case of MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. (111 N.E.1050 (1916)) threw out the requirement for privity altogether and allowed for strict liability for defective products.