The UK’s direct marketing industry held its breath: would a Plymouth court hold Safeway responsible for dachsund Muffin’s injuries sustained fetching an arriving door-drop? We report at
Topic: Direct marketing
Who: Safeway, Gordon & Susan Musselwhite & Muffin the dog
Where: Yealmpton, Devon
When: January 2004
Mr & Mrs Gordon and Susan Musselwhite sued retail giant Safeway following a door drop of Safeway leaflets to their home in Yealmpton, Devon. The claim arose in this way.
There was a free-standing letter box by the Musselwhites' front gate, but the door-drop deliverers went past this and up to their front door to post the leaflets. Seeing them poking through the letterbox, Muffin the dachsund jumped to retrieve them. Moments later, Mr Musselwhite, 62 and a retired company director, said he found Muffin, 7½, on the hall floor underneath the still protruding leaflets, allegedly paralysed from the shoulders downwards. Teeth marks on the leaflets looked like the proverbial "smoking gun" and the Musselwhites subsequently incurred £2,800 worth of vet bills for treatment on Muffin which included surgery to have a disc removed.
Handling the case without legal advice or representation, the Musselwhites sued Safeway and the claim came before Plymouth small claims court. The cause of action was alleged negligence, presumably on the basis that in some way Safeway owed a duty of care to the Musselwhites to take steps to ensure that their dog was not endangered by the delivery of its marketing leaflets, and that it had breached that duty of care.
To bolster their claim, the Musselwhites said that they would bring to court the postbox normally located at the foot of their drive, making the point that the deliverers did not need to come up to the front door.
Safeway announced it would be strenuously defending the claim, saying it was just an unfortunate incident, for which no party could be held responsible.
Plymouth's small claims court appeared to agree, as it rejected the claim at the hearing in late January 2004.
Why this matters:
So the floodgates have not been opened, at least for the time being, to multiple claims against direct marketers for damages and compensation flowing from direct mail and door drops. But just as over-weight junk food eaters in the US have not been put off from their negligence claims against McDonald's and others by one court failure, one wonders whether further similar claims will follow here.
Retailers and direct marketers, as well as the agencies that do the job of delivering door-drops, may be checking their insurance policies, procedures and contracts. Perhaps service level agreements will now from now on include requirements that mail is properly inserted through a letter box so that it falls on the floor the other side of the door, and that if there is a letter box provided at the entrance to a property, rather than at its front door, this should be used in preference at all times.