Parker v South Eastern Railway Co
Gabell v South Eastern Railway Co
Court of Appeal
Citations: (1877) 2 CPD 416.
The claimant paid to deposit their belongings in a railway cloak room. When deposited his belongings, the room’s operator gave him a ticket. The back of this ticket stated that the defendant (who operated the room) was not liable for any item worth more than £10. The same term was posted on a notice visible inside the cloakroom. The claimant did not read either the ticket or the notice. His belongings were stolen. When he sued the defendant for their value, the defendant sought to rely on the limitation clause on the ticket and notice.
At trial, the judge directed the jury that they had to consider whether, in the circumstances, the plaintiff was obliged to exercise reasonable and proper caution to read or to make himself aware of the clause. On appeal, the defendant challenged the judge’s direction as faulty.
- Was the judge’s direction correct?
The court held that the judge’s direction was incorrect and ordered a retrial. The proper question the jury ought to have considered was whether the defendant gave the claimant reasonable notice that the condition existed.
This Case is Authority For…
A person is not normally bound by terms on a document which a reasonable person would not assume contains contract terms.
Where it is not obvious that a document contains contractual terms, the defendant must take reasonable steps to give the other party notice of that fact. In taking reasonable steps, the defendant is entitled to assume that the claimant can read (unless he actually knows otherwise).
If reasonable notice is given, it does not matter that the claimant has not actually read the document.
Mellish LJ and Baggallay LJ seem to have considered the existence of reasonable notice a question of fact. This is because they ordered the matter to be determined by the jury. Bramwell LJ, by contrast, thought it was a question of law. He would have entered judgment for the defendant – he thought reasonable notice had been given.