Lewis v University of Bristol and Ultra Violet Products Ltd: CA 14 Jun 1999

The plaintiff was a research assistant employed by the defendant. She was an experienced molecular biologist, and was using an ultra violet transilluminator to photograph DNA gel in a laboratory when she was exposed to an excessive dose of ultra violet light and suffered serious burns to her face and neck. For some years she had used an ultra violet transilluminator known as a TL33 without mishap. Shortly before this event, and without her knowledge, this machine had been replaced by the University by a more powerful machine of similar appearance. The machine was manufactured by the third party, Ultra Violet Products Limited, who had supplied an instruction book with the machine.
Held: Otton LJ accepted a submission that the TM40 was manufactured for a niche market. It was not a product created for general consumer use. It was a product created for exclusively scientific uses. After a reference to Holmes v Ashford he said: ‘It is thus in my view a simple question of fact and degree in every case whether a manufacture[r] has given sufficient warning in all the circumstances when supplying a dangerous piece of equipment. […] If the question is asked: what ought the reasonable manufacture[r] to foresee and what steps should he reasonably take?, the answer to my mind is clear. These manufacturers could reasonably foresee that the university would adequately instruct anyone who might use the machine – and in particular the research assistants – and they could not reasonably have foreseen that the university would allow the machine to put into circulation and use without adequate warning.’

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham of Cornhill: The third party could not reasonably be expected to foresee the possibility that an expert professional buyer such as a scientific department of a university would make a machine such as the TM40 transilluminator available for use by its staff without, if necessary, familiarising itself with the potential hazards of such a machine and the safety precautions necessary to counter those hazards, and without taking steps to warn its staff of the dangers and to give instruction on the safe operation of the machine.


Otton LJ, Lord Bingham of Cornhill LCJ


[1999] EWCA Civ 1569


England and Wales


CitedHolmes v Ashford CA 1950
A hairdresser treated the plaintiff’s hair with a dye, and as a result the plaintiff contracted dermatitis. The dye came to the hairdresser in labelled bottles together with instructions. Both the labels and the brochure warned that the dye might be . .

Cited by:

CitedMcTear v Imperial Tobacco Ltd OHCS 31-May-2005
The pursuer sought damages after her husband’s death from lung cancer. She said that the defenders were negligent in having continued to sell him cigarettes knowing that they would cause this.
Held: The action failed. The plaintiff had not . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 12 April 2022; Ref: scu.146484