In today’s post, I will be sharing a list of some of the leading cases on contract law. This is basically to help scholars, lawyers and law students all of the world, find contract law cases so as to enable them consolidate their legal arguments, articles and points in law examinations. If you have been searching for cases to fortify your points in any matter that concerns contract, then search no further. Trust me; this article contains almost all the leading cases on the law of contract.
Nonetheless, before I move to the crux of this article, I would like to share some of basic information about the law of contract with you. This is also very pertinent because it will help you to understand the cases that will be mentioned here wholesomely. So what is a contract?
Table of Content
- 1 What is a contract?
- 2 Characteristics of a contract
- 3 Classification of Contract
- 4 Contact law cases
- 4.1 Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co
- 4.2 Andrews v Hopkinson
- 4.3 Fisher v Bell
- 4.4 Spencer v Harding
- 4.5 Central London Property Trust Ltd v High Trees House Ltd
- 4.6 Brodgen v Metropolitan Railway Co.
- 4.7 Lampleigh v Braithwaite
- 4.8 Roscolar v Thomas
- 4.9 Stevenson v McLean
- 4.10 Eastwood v Kenyon
- 4.11 White v Bluet
- 4.12 Combe v Combe
- 4.13 Dela Bere v Pearson
- 4.14 Read v Dean
- 4.15 Bournemouth Athletic Football Club Ltd v Manchester United Football Club
- 4.16 Tinn v Hoffman & Co
- 4.17 Couturier v Hastie
- 4.18 Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v Selfridge Ltd
- 4.19 Griffith v Brymer
- 4.20 Darkin v Lee
- 4.21 Startup v Macdonald
- 4.22 Final words
What is a contract?
Contract has been given different definitions by different people. According to Sir Fredrick Pollock, A contract is a promise or set of promises which the law will efforce. More so, the American Law Institute gave an elaborate definition in their paper titled “Restatement of American Law: Contracts” when they defined contract as “a promise or set of promises, the breach of which the law gives a remedy, or performance of which the law in some way recognizes as a duty.”
In my view, “a contact is an agreement giving rise to obligations which are enforced or recognized by law”. Conversely, it should be noted that while every contract is ultimately an agreement, it is not every agreement that is a contract.
Characteristics of a contract
Below are some of the characteristics of a binding contract:
- There must be an offer and acceptance (the agreement)
- There must be an intention to create legal relations
- There is a requirement of written formalities in some cases
- There must be consideration (Except if the agreement is under seal)
- The parties must also have the capacity to contact
- There must be genuineness of consent by the parties to the terms of the contract
- The contract must not be contrary to public policy
Classification of Contract
Basically, contract is classified into Simple contract or Formal contract. The two classifications of contract will be explained explicitly below:
A simple contract is also called an informal contract. It is a contract, whether writen or oral, which is not under seal. It can also be implied from the conduct of parties. Simple contract are not binding except there is consideration. In a simple or informal contract, only a party who has furnished consideration can bring an action to enforce the contract.
On the other hand, a formal contract is a contract which is reduced to writing, singed by parties contracting and impressed with a seal. It is also called a specialty contact or a deed. The basic features of a formal contract is to that it must be signed, sealed and delivered. These actions constitute the execution of a deed.
Now that you known what a contract is, the various types of contract and the characteristics of a contract, we will now see some of the leading cases in contract law.
Contact law cases
Below are some of the cases in the law of contract:
- Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co
- Andrews v Hopkinson
- Fisher v Bell
- Spencer v Harding
- Central London Property Trust Ltd v High Trees House Ltd
- Brodgen v Metropolitan Railway Co.
- Lampleigh v Braithwaite
- Roscolar v Thomas
- Stevenson v McLean
- Eastwood v Kenyon
- White v Bluet
- Combe v Combe
- Dela Bere v Pearson
- Read v Dean
- Bournemouth Athletic Football Club Ltd v Manchester United Football Club
- Tinn v Hoffman & Co
- Couturier v Hastie
- Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v Selfridge
- Griffith v Brymer
- Darkin v Lee
- Startup v Macdonald
Yeah! Those are some of the leading cases in contract law. Nevertheless, as we continue, will be sharing with you the case summary of each of the cases mentioned in the list above with their citations. I enjoin you to read painstakingly so that you will achieve your purpose for reading this work. Now, below is the case summary of the leading cases in the law of contract.
Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co
Citation:  1 QB 256
The case of Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co is a good illustration of a unilateral contract. In this case, the defendant were proprietors of a medical preparation called “The Carbolic Smoke Ball”. They advertised in various newspapers and magazines offering to pay €100 to any person who contracted influenza after using the ball three times a day for two weeks.
They added that they had deposited €1,000 at the Alliance Bank, Regent Street, to show their sincerity in the matter. The plaintiff, a lady, used the ball as was advertised and was attacked by influenza. She sued for €100 and the company agured that there was no intention to create legal relations.
The court held in favor of the plaintiff and said that the fact that €1,000 was deposited at the Alliance Bank, shows that there was an intention to create legal relations.
Andrews v Hopkinson
Citation:  3 All ER 422
The case of Andrews v Hopkinson is one of the contract cases that explains where a collateral contract will fail with the main contract. Apparently, a collateral contract is a preliminary contract which is usually oral and forms the reason or the inducement for the making of another related contract.
In the case of Andrews v Hopkinson, the collateral contract failed with the main contract. Here, a dealer said to the plaintiff, “It is a nice little bus, I would stake my life on it. You will have no trouble with it.” The plaintiff entered into a written hire-purchase contract with a finance company. The car was not roadworthy. The court held that the dealer was liable.
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Fisher v Bell
Citation:  3 All ER 731
The case of Fisher v Bell is a contract case that is usually used to explain the difference between an invitation to treat and an offer. In this case, the respondent, shopkeeper, displayed a knife with a price tag. He was charged for offering to sale a knife contrary to section 1(1) of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959.
The question that arose for determination in court was whether the display of this knife constituted an offer for sale within the meaning in the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959. It was held by the Court of Appeal that the display was an invitation to offer and so the shopkeeper was not liable.
Spencer v Harding
Citation:  LR 5 CP 561
In Spencer v Harding, the defendant sent out circulars inviting tenders to buy stock. The Plaintiff claimed that the circular was an offer to sell the stock to the highest bidder and that they had sent the highest bid which the plaintiff had refused to accept.
The court held that the circular was an invitation to treat and not an offer. Wiles J said thus: “It is a mere attempt to ascertain whether an offer can be obtained within such a margin as the seller are willing to accept.”
Central London Property Trust Ltd v High Trees House Ltd
Citation:  KB 130
The case of Central London Property Trust Ltd v High Trees House Ltd is also one of the leading cases in the law of contract. This case changed the former rule of law in pinnel’s case. The case is usually referred to as the High Trees case or principle of Equitable Estoppel.
In Central London Property Trust Ltd v High Trees House Ltd, the plaintiff least a block of flat to the defendant at a rent of €2,500 per annum in September 1939. In January 1940 the plaintiff agreed in writing to reduce the rent by half because of war condition which had caused many vacancies in the flats. No express limit was set for the operation of this reduction.
From 1940 to 1945 the defendant paid the reduced rent. In 1945, the flats became fully occupied again. The plaintiff’s company then claimed the full rent, suing for rent at the ordinary rate for the last two quarters of 1945.
It was held by Lord Denning that, as agreement for the reduction of rent had been acted upon by the defendants, the plaintiff were estopped in equity from claiming the full rent from 1941 until early 1945 when the flats were fully let.
Brodgen v Metropolitan Railway Co.
Citation:  2 AC 666
This is one of the contract cases that is offen cited to backup the rule that a contract can be made by conduct. In this case, Brodgen had for many year supplied the defendant company with coal without a formal contract. Brodgen then suggested that the relationship be regularised through a formal contract. Metropolitan’s agent sent a draft agreement to Brodgen who inserted an Arbitrator’s name in the space provided for it, signed it and wrote it away in his drawer and nothing further was done to complete its execution.
Both parties acted on the strength of the terms contained in the draft, supplying and paying for the coal in accordance with its clauses until a dispute arose and Brodgen denied that any binding contract existed between them. The house of Lord’s held that a contract arisen by conduct.
Lampleigh v Braithwaite
Citation:  Hob 105
In this case, the defendant, Braithwaite, had killed Patrick Mahume. He then requested the plaintiff to do all he could to obtain a royal pardon for him from the king. To this end, the plaintiff exerted himself and undertook a lot of journeys to and from London, incurring certain expenses.
He succeeded in obtaining the pardon and the defendant promised to pay him the sume of €100 for his trouble and expenses. It was held that the plaintiff was entitled to the sum as his services were procured at the defendant’s previous request an in circumstances in which it was responsible to expect that payment would be made for the services. Accordingly, there was consideration for the defendant’s promise.
Roscolar v Thomas
Citation:  2QB 234
To wholesomely discuss past consideration as a topic in the law of contract, the case of Roscolar v Thomas must be mentioned. In this case, the plaintiff bought a horse from the defendant. After sometime, the defendant promised the plaintiff that it was a sound horse, free from vice. The horse was in fact a vicious horse. The plaintiff sued the defendant for breach of promise.
It was held that the action will fail. If the promise had been given at the time of the sale, it would have been supported by consideration, but since it was given after the sales had taken place, the consideration which the plaintiff furnished was past and he had furnished no new consideration for the defendant’s promise.
Stevenson v McLean
Citation:  5 QBD 346
In Stevenson v McLean, the defendant offered on a Sunday to sell the plaintiff some quantity of iron. The offer was left open till close of business on Monday. On Monday, the plaintiff telegraphed ro ask for information. On that same Monday, at 10:00am, the defendant received a telegram but didn’t reply it. On that same day, the plaintiff accepted the original offer at 1.34pm. At 1.25pm the defendant revoked the offer by telegram. At 1.46pm the plaintiff received telegram of revocation.
On hearing the matter, the court held that the plaintiff first telegram was not a counter offer but a mere inquiry, so that the offer was still open when the plaintiff accepted it. The plaintiff had accepted the offer before the defendant’s revocation was communicated to him.
Eastwood v Kenyon
Citation:  11 Ad & El 438
Eastwood v Kenyon is the case in contract that is used to explain that moral obligation does not amount to consideration. In this case, the death of John Sutcliff left his infant daughter as his sole heiress. The plaintiff, as the girl’s guardian, spent money on her education and for the benefit of the estate, and the girl, when she came of age, promised ro reimburse him.
She then married the defendant, who also promised to pay. The plaintiff sued the plaintiff on this promise and the court dismissed the action, reiterating the rule that moral obligation does not amount to consideration. The court noted that if the notion is accepted it would destroy the requirement of consideration as the law requires an additional element to the defendant’s promise. That element is consideration and it cannot be a mere moral obligation.
White v Bluet
Citation:  23 LJ Ex 36
The case of White v Bluet explains the position that consideration in contract need not to be adequate by sufficient. In this case, a sun owned his father a sum of money. Subsequently, the sun harassed his father with frequent complaints about the way his father distributed his wealth among his children which was unfavorable to him.
The son then alleged that his father promised him that if he would stop complaining, he (the father) would discharge him from the debt and he stopped. The question before the court was whether this action of the son constituted consideration for the father’s promise. The court held that it did not because:
The father had a right to distribute his property in any manner he liked and so the son had no right to complain in the first place.
The son had no right to complain; thus is abstaining from doing what he had no right to do constituted no consideration for the father’s promise.
Combe v Combe
Citation:  2 KB 213
This is a contract case where the court held that consideration is an essential element of a binding contract. Here, a wife started proceedings against the husband for divorce and she obtained a decree nisi against the husband. The husband then promised to pay her an annual allowance of €100 free of tax as a permanent maintenance for her.
After the decree nisi was made absolute, the husband never kept his promise. Thereupon the wife brought an action against him to make him pay the money. The court held that she didn’t offer consideration for the husband’s promise.
Dela Bere v Pearson
Citation:  1 KB 280
In this case, the defendant placed an advertisement in the newspaper to give financial advice to readers. The plaintiff wrote, asking for the name of a good stockbroker. The editor negligently recommended someone who was an undischarged bankrupt.
On the strength of the editor’s advice, the plaintiff sent some money to the broker, who misappropriated it. The plaintiff brought an action in court seeking to recover his money from the the newspaper. The issue in court was whether the plaintiff furnished any consideration.
The court considered that many people bought newspaper because of that publication. It further held that the plaintiff had furnished consideration for the contract. The defendant could and did benefit from the plaintiff buying the newspaper and the plaintiff had also consented to the publication of his question in the defendant’s newspaper if the defendants wished to do so.
Read v Dean
Citation:  1 KB 188
In the case of Read v Dean, the plaintiff hired the defendant’s moto launch for a holiday with his family on the river Thames. Two hours after he had set sail, the launch caught fire.
The firefighting equipment provided in the launch was out of order and the plaintiff suffered serious injuries and lost all his belongings on board. It was held that there must be implied into the contract of hire an undertaking by the defendant to make the launch as fit for the purpose of the hiring as reasonable care could make it, and that the defendant was therefore liable.
Bournemouth Athletic Football Club Ltd v Manchester United Football Club
Citation: Vol Xi (2) Student Law Report 22
The case of Bournemouth Athletic Football Club Ltd v Manchester United Football Club is another popular case in the law of contract. In this case, a transfer agreement was made between the two football clubs. Under it, a footballer was to be transferred from Bournemouth to Manchester united for €194,445 in addition, a further sum of €27,777 was to be paid to Bournmouth if the footballer scored 20 goals in the first-team competitive matches. From October to December 1972, the football scored 4 goals in 11 matches. In December, Manchester United appointed a new manager who re-organised the team.
As a result, the footballer was transferred in early 1973 to Westham United Football club for €170,000. The plaintiff argued that the contract of the defendant in transferring the footballer was in Breach of the contract because there was an implied term in the contract that the footballer was entitled to a reasonable opportunity to score the goals. The court of appeal held that such term must be implied in order to give business efficacy to a contract.
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Tinn v Hoffman & Co
Citation:  29 LT 271
The court in Tinn v Hoffman & Co held that a cross-offer does not constitute a contract.
The facts of the case are as follows: the defendant wrote to the plaintiff offering to sell him 800 tons of iron at 69s per ton. The plaintiff wrote to the defendant, on the same day offering to buy 800 tons of iron at 69s per ton. The letters crossed in the post and the court held that there was no contract.
Couturier v Hastie
Citation:  5 HLC 673
This is the leading contract law case that stipulates the position of the law where there is a mistake as to the existence of the subject matter of the contract. In Couturier v Hastie, a man bought a cargo of corn which he and the seller thought at the time of the contract, to be in transit from Salonica to England, but which, unknown to them had become fermented and had already been sold by the master of the ship to a Tunis. It was held that the contract was void and the buyer not liable for the price of the cargo.
In the words of Lord Cranworth, “The contract plainly imports that there was something which was to be sold at the time of the contract and something to be purchased. No such thing existing; I think the Court of Exchequer Chamber has come to the only reasonable conclusion upon it ...”
Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v Selfridge Ltd
Citation:  AC 847
This is one of the leading contract cases that is associated with the principle of privity of contract. The principle states that only a party to a contract can enjoy right or suffer burdens partaining to the contract.
In Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v Selfridge Ltd, the plaintiff sold tyres to a certain dealer on the understanding that he would not re-sell below a certain price and that in the event of a sale to customers the dealer would extract the same promise from them.
The dealer sole the tyres to Selfridge who agreed to observe the restrictions and to pay Dunlop €5 for each Tyre they sold below the restricted price. Selfridge in fact sold the tyres below the restricted price to a customer and Dunlop brought an action against them to enforce the promise to pay €5 per tyre, for each breach.
It was held that while Selfridge had committed to breach the contract between him and the dealer, Dunlop was not a party to this contract and had furnished no consideration for the defendant’s promise.
Griffith v Brymer
Citation:  19 TLR 434
This is one of the cases under Mistake as a topic in contract law. In Griffith v Brymer, a contract was made for the hire of a room on 26 June 1902, the day fixed for the coronation of King Edward VII, for the purpose of viewing the coronation procession.
At the time the contract was made, it was unknown to the parties, the decision to postpone the coronation had already been taken. Since the contract was merely for the hire of the room on 26 June to view the coronation procession, performance was impossible. The contract was held to be void.
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Darkin v Lee
Citation:  1 KB 566.
This contract case explains the principle that where a party who performed his obligation defectively but substantially can sue for the contract price, but he will be liable to have deducted from the price the cost of making good the deficiency.
In Darkin v Lee, the plaintiff contracted to carry out repairs on the defendant’s house. He carried out the repairs but the work was not done in accordance with the contact’s specification. It was held that the plaintiff was entitled to be paid the agreed sum subject to a deductive equal to the cost of putting the defect right.
Startup v Macdonald
Citation:  6 M & G 593.
The rule of law in Startup v Macdonald is that; where the obligation under a contract is to deliver goods or render services, tender of such goods and services which is refused, discharges the party making the tender from any further obligation and enables him to sue for a breach of contract.
In Startup v Macdonald, the plaintiff agreed to sell 10 tonnes of oil to the defendant within the last 14 days of March. Pursuant to this agreement, the plaintiff delivered the oil to the defendant at 8:30pm on 31 March, a Saturday, but the defendant refused to accept the delivery because of the lateness of the hour.
It was held that the plaintiff made a valid tender of the goods and therefore discharged his obligations under the contract and the defendant was therfore liable in damages for non-acceptance of the goods.
Those are some of the leading contract law cases you should know. Hope this article was able to give you exactly what you wanted. If you have any case you were really expecting to be in this list but was not mentioned here, kindly let us know using the comment section. Accordingly, share you comments and questions in the comment section too. I will be very glad to give you a reply.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka ACMC, is a Law Student and a Certified Mediator/Conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a Developer with knowledge in HTML, CSS, JS, PHP and React Native. Samuel is bent on changing the legal profession by building Web and Mobile Apps that will make legal research a lot easier.