Contract Law CasesIf you are entering into the field of contract law, it is important to know about key past cases and their outcome. It is common in legal proceedings in any field, in the case of a dispute where a matter may go to court that past cases are cited as used as a point of reference for the current case at hand.

Below we have very briefly some significant Contract Law Cases. TIP: you can then google these to find more information about them online.

Contract Law Cases:


Ratio = point of law

Fisher v Bell 1961

Display of goods in a self-service shop,ITT

D displayed flick knife illegal size

Ratio: Held as merely Invitation to treat


Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company Ltd 1893

Unilateral Offer, Adverts

D sold a patent medicine. They placed a news ad stating they would pay £100 to anyone who caught flu after using smoke balls.  They claimed it was a ‘mere puff’- Unilateral offers can be accepted by anyone who had notice of offer.

Ratio: Court of Appeal found that the advertisement was unilateral and binding to the whole world.  It waived the need for communication of acceptance prior to a claim being made on the basis of it.  The C got £100


Partridge v Crittenden 1968

Invitation to treat, adverts

D placed an ad in a mag stating ‘Bramblefinch cocks, Bramblefinch hens 25s each’ was prosecuted under birds act for ‘offering for sale’ wild birds.

Ratio: held that advert an invitation to Treat.  It was an expression of willingness to receive offers as the starting point of negotiations


British Car Auctions v Wright 1872


D offered a unroadworthy vechicle for sale

Ratio: deemed merely an ITT ( bid)


Taylor v Laird 1856


Ratio: Offer must be communicated to the offeree.  This means no P can be bound to an offer which they were unaware


 Inland Revenue v Fry 2001

Ratio: Offeree must have clear knowledge of the existence of the offer for it to be valid


Pharmaceutical Society of GB v Boots 1953

Display of goods in a self-service shop,ITT

D changed the format of shop from counter to self service.  Drugs act -needed supervision of pharmacist for certain drugs

Ratio: Court of Appeal found that goods on shelves were ITT and when presented to cash desk then contract formed then


Felthouse v Brindely 1863

Acceptance, counter offer

W offered farm for £1000, H rejected & counter offered £950, this was rejected & W sold farm to another P.

Ratio: Since counter offer made original offer was destroyed & H could not sue for breach of contract.


Bryne v Van Tienhoven 1880

Communication of revocation

1 Oct T letter posted offering

8 Oct T posting revocation of offer

11 Oct received offer to sell from B

15 Oct B confirmed acceptance

20 Oct received revocation  letter

Ratio: letter 1st Oct  formed contract despite disagreement of both parties


Ramsgate Victoria Hotel Co v Montefiore 1866

Lapse of time, reasonable time

C had offered to buy shares in the hotel company in June, but the company did not isuue the shares until Nov

Ratio: offer lapse after ‘reasonable time’.  Depends on subject matter of contract.  In cases where the subject matter could fluctuate rapidly (like this one) then the offer would terminate after a short time


Errington v Errington 1952

Revocation of a unilateral offer

Father promised son legal title to property if they paid off all the mortgage repayments.  He died after some repayments

Ratio: no promise made by son, commencement had started therefore could not be revoked.  Lord Denning said must be completed though


Bradbury v Morgan 1862

Death of offeror

Ratio:offeror dies before the offer is accepted, then the offeror’s personal reps may still be bound by an acceptance provided that:

-the contract does not involve the personal services of the deceased

-the offeree is ignorant of the offeror’s death


Reynolds v Atherton 1921

Death of offeror

Ratio: offeree dies before acceptance, then the offer lapses & the offeree’s personal reps will be unable to accept on behalf of the deceased.


Zambia Steel & Building Supplies v Clark (James)& Eaton 1986

Battle of the forms, counter offer

Ratio: terms of last counter offer stand


British Road Services v Arthur V. Crutchley Ltd 1968

Battle of the forms

Ratio: Defendants’s conditions stamped & held –-once performance started invalid agreements still perform-Lord Denning –‘reasonable implication’


Stevenson, Jaques & Co. v McLean (1880)

Acceptance, request for info

S asked M is he could accept a limit, then went forward & accepted the original offer,that M had open. S sued for breach of contract.

Ratio: the asking was not counter offer, just a request for info, & the acceptance was binding & M was in breach as he sold to another


Hyde v Wrench 1840

Acceptance, counter offer

W offered farm for £1000, H rejected & counter offered £950, this was rejected & W sold farm to another P.

Ratio: Since counter offer made original offer was destroyed & H could not sue for breach of contract.


Percical v LCCAsylum etc 1918


Ratio: where tender is submitted for supplying goods or services on a specific date; or for supplying a specific quantity of goods over a specific period of time, acceptance results in a binding contract and is submitted for indefinite subject matter such as ‘such quantities as you may order’ then acceptance of that tender does not result in binding contract, acceptance occurs when order placed


Sale of Goods Act 1979

‘A sale by auctions is complete when the auctioneers announces its completion by the falls of the hammer, or in customary manner; & until the announcement is made any bidder may retract his bid’

Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999

Gives third parties rights, if the contract benefitted them in some way


See also: Contract Terms.