Smith v Hughes

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Citation: Smith v Hughes (1871) LR 6 QB 597

This information can be found in the Casebook: Paterson, Robertson & Duke, Contract: Cases and Materials (Lawbook Co, 11th ed, 2009), pp. 791-2 [31.140-31.145].

Contents

Background facts

  • The Plaintiff [Smith] sold the Defendant [Hughes] some oats.
  • The Defendant thought he was buying old oats (cattle only etas old oats) but they were in fact new.
    • The Plaintiff knew the oats were new, but it is unclear whether he knew that the Defendant thought they were old.
  • Upon discovering that they are new, the Defendant refused to accept the oats.
  • The Plaintiff sued for breach of contract.

Legal issues

Judgement

Acceptance

  • “if, whatever a man’s real intention may be, he so conducts himself that a reasonable man would believe that he was assenting to the terms proposed by the other party, and that other party upon that belief enters into the contract with him, the man thus conducting himself would be equally bound as if he had intended to agree to the other’s terms.[1]

Mistake

Trial judge:

  • There are two questions for the jury:
    1. Was the word ‘old’ used? If so, verdict for defendant.
    2. If the word ‘old’ was not used, did the plaintiff believe the defendant to be under the impression that he was contracting for old oats? If so, verdict for defendant.

Blackburn J:

  • New trial ordered, on the ground that there is no legal obligation in a seller to inform a buyer that the buyer is under a mistake, not induced by the seller.
  • The trial judge’s direction did not make the distinction between agreeing to take the oats under the belief that they were old, and agreeing to take the oats under the belief that the plaintiff contracted that they were old.

Hannen J:

  • New trial ordered, on the ground that the trial judge’s direction did not sufficiently explain to the jury that, in order to relieve the buyer from liability, the jury had to find that the seller induced the buyer to believe that the seller was contracting to sell old oats, not merely that the seller induced the buyer to believe that the buyer was buying old oats.

References

  1. (1871) LR 6 QB 597, 607
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