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Woman loses decade-long straw-in-bottle case against Coca-Cola

Catherine Wanjiru accused the firm of selling and marketing the soda whilst knowing it was contaminated. [iStockphoto]

There are many reasons why Kenyans troop to courts to seek justice and a straw inside a bottle of soda adds to the piling list of trivial cases that drag for years in courts. 

Nearly 10 years ago, Catherine Wanjiru walked to Nakumatt Mega Supermarket in Nairobi with the single aim of quenching her thirst.

She picked a bottle of fanta pineapple, duly paid, and walked out of the shopping mall hoping to enjoy the drink on her way back home.

But to Wanjiru’s disappointment, a straw was sealed inside the bottle. Not willing to let the matter pass just like that, the woman on August 3, 2013, wrote to the distributor, Nairobi Bottlers notifying the firm of the anomaly - but she never received a response. Not amused, she wrote to Coca-Cola Company Subsidiary Limited accusing the soda manufacturer of failing to ensure health standards before going to court.

In her petition, Wanjiru accused the firm of selling and marketing the soda whilst knowing it was contaminated and had impurities. The petitioner filed the case before the chief magistrate’s court and then took the bottle to a government chemist, who in court, testified that he had seen a foreign matter inside the bottle. After hearing the rival arguments, the lower court ruled in her favour and ordered the firm to pay her Sh150,000. In her case, Wanjiru called an officer working with a government chemist as her star witness. Samuel Njorige recalled in his testimony that on June 3, 2016, he was asked to examine a 300-millilitre Fanta pineapple bottle. The court heard that he was requested to analyze the content, which he established had a straw.

However, Nairobi Bottlers denied this. It called its employee Richard Mutie to counter the evidence.

Mutie stated that given the thoroughness of the manufacturing process, it was impossible to have a drinking straw inside a bottle.

Following the judgment, Nairobi bottlers moved to the High Court. In its case before Justice David Majanja, the distributor argued Wanjiru could not prove that she suffered any injury as she never consumed the soda. The firm asserted that there was no evidence of her mentioning the effects of the soda on her. The Coca-Cola subsidiary was of the view that it was unjustified to award her the money as general damages.

At the same time, Nairobi Bottlers also argued that it was unfair not to bring Nakumatt in the case as Wanjiru claimed to have bought the soda at the now-defunct supermarket.

Justice Majanja in his verdict observed that it was established that the soda had a straw. He said that it was for Nairobi Bottlers to counter the evidence and demonstrate that it was either interfered with by third parties or the purchaser.

He stated that it was therefore unnecessary to join Nakumatt as a party to the case. “In light of the fact that the respondent (Wanjiru) established that the soda contained a straw and it was opened by the Government Chemist, the evidential burden shifted to the appellant (Nairobi Bottlers) to demonstrate that the soda was wholesome and had not been interfered with,” he said.

Although the judge agreed that the soda had a straw, he allowed Nairobi Bottler’s prayers after finding that Wanjiru could not produce evidence that the soda harmed her or give evidence that she suffered any loss. He allowed the appeal and slapped her with the cost of the case before the magistrate’s court and the High Court.