Felthouse v Bindley (1863): Silence cannot be acceptance.

Areas of applicable law: Contract law – Offer – Acceptance

Main arguments in this case: Acceptance has to be clearly communicated as silence cannot amount to acceptance.

In contract law an offer has to be accepted to become binding but to be so, it has to be acknowledged clearly by the offeree. Merely keeping silent about an offer does not amount to acceptance.

The fact of the case: In Felthouse v Brindley (1863) an uncle was trying to buy his nephew’s horse. The uncle wrote to the nephew in a letter “‘if I hear no more from you I shall consider the horse mine at £30 15s’.

The nephew did not respond back to what the uncle had stated. He was busy at the time due to auctions on his farm but he did ask the auctioneer not to list the horse for sale. The horse was later sold to a third party as the auctioneer forgot about the instruction given by the nephew.

The uncle brought a claim against the auctioneer in tort that the horse was his property and the auctioneer had no right to sell it. However to show that the horse belonged to him, the uncle had to prove that there was a valid contract between him and the nephew.

The court held that there was not a contract formed between the uncle and nephew and therefore the horse did not belong to the uncle. The nephew did not accept the offer as he kept silent about it, and to be legally binding, acceptance has to be communicated clearly.

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