Bisset v Wilkinson
Privy Council (New Zealand)
Citations:  UKPC 1;  AC 177.
A buyer and a seller entered into a contract for the sale of land. Prior to the contract, the seller (an agricultural worker) told the buyer (a sheep farmer) that he thought that the land could carry around 2000 sheep. This was an honest guess. The land was not actually capable of carrying that many sheep all year round. The buyer sought to rescind the contract on the grounds of misrepresentation.
- Was the seller’s estimate of the carrying capacity of the land an actionable statement in misrepresentation?
The Privy Council held in favour of the seller. The statement was a statement of opinion, and the seller honestly held that opinion. As such, there was no misrepresentation.
This Case is Authority For…
A misrepresentation can only exist with respect to factual contentions. However, where a person expresses an opinion, whether they believe that opinion or not is a fact. Therefore, if a person claims they hold an opinion which they do not, then this can be a misrepresentation. Additionally, if the opinion implies a fact then this can also be the subject of misrepresentation.
The court commented that a statement of opinion is more likely to implicitly contain a fact where the person making the statement has a better understanding of the facts than the person receiving it. In this case, the buyer was in a better position to know how many sheep the land could carry than the seller, so they were not entitled to rely on the seller’s opinion as expressing any fact.