Unintentional Tort or Negligence: Description of a Court Case in Canada

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Table of contents

  1. Summary
  2. Unintentional Tort: Negligence
  3. Conclusion
  4. Bibliography


Mr. Mustapha lawsuit against Culligan of Canada Ltd. was the case captured media attention in 2005. According to Mr. Mustapha, when his wife was opening a new bottle of water which they purchased from Culligan of Canada Ltd., she discovered a dead fly floating in it. After that, the couple claimed they had been vomited and Mr. Mustapha developed into an extreme psychiatric reaction characterized by server depression, anxiety and phobia. The mental illness caused him to lose revenue for his business (GRIDIN, 2008).

Unintentional Tort: Negligence

It is a great example of negligence tort and in order to succeed in a claim based on negligence, Mr Mustapha must prove a wrongful act, causation and quantifiable harm. This case falls into a subcategory of Negligence tort - “product liability” based on the defendant’s liability for harm caused by defective or dangerous products to others. As any subcategory of negligence, the plaintiff must prove all the elements of causation included Culligan owed him a duty of care, Culligan breached the standard of care, this breach caused Mr. Mustapha’s loss and the loss of Mr. Mustapha is foreseeable.

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Firstly, the fly was found in the water is the “wrongful act”. Secondly, all the “causation” elements needed to be considered. Mustapha is a customer of Culligan business so Culligan owned him a duty of care. Culligan, as a manufacturer of drinking water, must ensure that the water it supplies is not contaminated by foreign elements so that duty of care was breached by allowing a fly into the bottle during the sealing process. On the findings of trial judge, Mr. Mustapha provided the medical evidences which implicated he developed a major depressive disorder, phobia and anxiety after the incident. This psychiatric illness had a major impact on his life, especially on his business. It was decided by the judge qualifies as a personal injury at law, therefore, Mr. Mustapha has established that he sustained damage. The quantifiable damage was determined by the trial court with $80,000 in general damages, more than $24,000 in special damages and more than two hundred thousand dollars for loss of Mr. Mustapha’s business.

For the last question to answer, was the injury of Mr. Mustapha reasonably foreseeable by the manufacturer of the defected water, Culligan Ltd.? In order to establish the tort of negligence, the injury Mr. Mustapha suffered as the result of Culligan’s breach the standard of care cannot be too remote to anticipate. At the trial court, Culligan acknowledged its product cleanliness and purity and made Mr. Mustapha’s psychiatric injury from the incident foreseeable. Even though Mr. Mustapha’s reaction was considered as “objectively bizarre”, Culligan was still found liable for the damages. However, the Court of Appeal overturned the judgment of the trial court of “reasonably foreseeable”. The defendant only found liable if he knows the plaintiff’s greater sensitivity, only then, the plaintiff’s injury is considered as reasonably foreseeable. In this case, Culligan did not know about Mustapha’s personal psychiatric vulnerabilities. As the result, the Court of Appeal did not find objective reasonable foreseeability of this extremely unusual injury in this case and judged that Mr. Mustapha’s injury is “imaginable but not reasonably foreseeable” (Court, 2008).


To conclude, at the trial level, the court awarded Mr. Mustapha more than $300,000 in general damages, special damages and in damages for loss of his business. Culligan appealed the decision, and the court of appeal overturned Mr. Mustapha’s damage award and agreed there should be no compensation paid by Culligan based on the fact that Mr. Mustapha suffered extreme psychiatric reaction by from seeing the fly was too remote to be foreseeable. Noted that neither Mr. Mustapha nor his family actually drank the defected water. Mr. Mustapha appealed further, but the Supreme Court upheld the denial of damages (CBC, 2008).


  1. CBC (2008). Top court dismisses fly-in-water. CBC, https://www.lavery.ca/DATA/PUBLICATION/1014_en~v~a-fly-in-the-water-bottle-the-supreme-court-defines-reasonable-foreseeability-in-negligence-actions.pdf
  2. Court, S. (2008). Mustapha v. Culligan of Canada Ltd. Retrieved from Supreme Court Judgments: https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/4637/index.do
  3. GRIDIN, L. (2008). “Dead fly in water bottle” case to be decided by Supreme Court tomorrow. lawiscool, https://lawiscool.com/2008/05/21/dead-fly-in-water-bottle-case-to-be-decided-by-supreme-court-tomorrow/
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Unintentional Tort or Negligence: Description of a Court Case in Canada. (2023, February 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/unintentional-tort-or-negligence-description-of-a-court-case-in-canada/
“Unintentional Tort or Negligence: Description of a Court Case in Canada.” Edubirdie, 01 Feb. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/unintentional-tort-or-negligence-description-of-a-court-case-in-canada/
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