Contract Law - Offer Cases & Acceptance
Learning Authority Cases on Offer & Acceptance
A crucial part of any contract is knowing when there was or was not offer and acceptance - it is simply vital for any contract law student and even more so for contract lawyers.
Learn it now, learn it well!
+ as usual, do not forget to cite the relevant cases in support of your statements.
Summary List of Cases
The following is a list of cases you should study in depth in order to fully understand offer and acceptance. They are all landmark cases and therefore are easily accessible on WestLaw, LexisNexis, or any other law library.
- Fisher v Bell  1 QB 394
- Pharmaceutical Society of GB v Boots  1 QB 401
- Harvey v Facey (1893)
- Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. (1893)
- Partridge v Crittenden (1968)
- Spencer v Harding (1870)
- Heathcote Ball v Barry (2000)
- Thornton v Shoe Lane Parking (1971)
Simple Need-to-Know Facts
- In order for there to be an offer there needed to be an intention to be bound. (Harvey v Facey, Carlill v Smoke Ball Co.)
- Invitations to Treat:
An invitation to treat is merely an invitation for others to make offers. Examples of invitations to treat:
- Goods on sale in store e.g. foods on shelves are invitations to treat (Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots (1953).
- Price tags on items in shops (Fisher v Bell ) are invitations to treat and not offers for the sale of the marked item for the marked price!
- Most advertisements (Partridge v Crittenden  are invitations to treat, but some constitute unilateral offers (Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. )
Tenders are invitations to treat except where it has been made expressly clear that a tender of a certain quality will be accepted e.g. highest/lowest tender.
An auction with a reserve price (a minimum price the item can be sold at) does not bind the seller to sell to the highest bidder. Instead, each bid is an offer.
- An auction without a reserve price does do this and forces the seller to sell to the highest bidder. This is because the auctioneer makes a unilateral contract which is fulfilled by the highest bidder. This rule applies even if there was only one bidder! As in (Heathcote Ball v Barry ).
With machines, typically the machine itself constitutes an offer and making payment to the machine shows your willingness to be bound (acceptance). (Thornton v Shoe Lane Parking ).
Flick through the photos and guess what cases they represent! (Answers at the bottom of the page)Click thumbnail to view full-size
Answers to the photo stimuli:
- Fisher v Bell - the sale of a flick-knife - 1961.
- Harvey v Facey - the sale of Bumper Hall Pen - 1893.
- Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots - all about Boots selling pharmaceutical products via self-service and what goods on sale in shops are (offers or invitations to treat) - 1953
- Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company - mrs Carlill enforcing the promise Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. made to the general public - 1893
- Partridge v Crittenden - the advert for the sale of finches was deemed to be merely an invitation to treat and not an offer, thereby not committing the offence of offering them for sale - 1968
- Spencer v Harding - requests for tenders are invitations to treat and each tender is an offer that the requester has the option to accept or reject - 1870
- Heathcote Ball v Barry - auctions made without reserve constitute unilateral offers that are accepted by the highest bidder - 2000
- Thornton v Shoe Lane Parking - machines constitute offers and the payment into them acceptance - 1971
At the Ultimate End of Knowing Cases: The Year Test
You should be able to look at these dates and associate at least one landmark contract case mentioned in this hub. Try it and see!
- 1893 (there are two for this year)
Answers to the Year Test:
- 1870 - Spencer v Harding
- 1893 - Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company, Harvey v Facey
- 1953 - Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots
- 1961 - Fisher v Bell
- 1968 - Partridge v Crittenden
- 1971 - Thornton v Shoe Lane Parking
- 2000 - Heathcote Ball v Barry