A Summary of Curtis v Chemical Cleaning and Dyeing Co [1951]

Curtis v Chemical Cleaning

Curtis v Chemical Cleaning and Dyeing Co [1951] is a famous contract law case that dealt with the issue of misrepresenting a term. It determined whether or not a party signing a document will be bound if he or she has been misled as to the meaning of the words contained therein.

Given below are the case details:

Case name & citation:Curtis v Chemical Cleaning and Dyeing Co [1951] 1 KB 805
Court and jurisdiction:The Court of Appeal; England and Wales
Year of the case:1951
The bench of judges:Somervell, Singleton and Denning, L.JJ.
Area of law:Exclusion clause in a contract; misrepresentation

Facts of the case (Curtis v Chemical Cleaning and Dyeing Co)

Curtis (the plaintiff) entrusted her wedding dress to Chemical Cleaning (the defendant) for cleaning, and they handed her a receipt to sign. The staff member clarified that the document would release the defendant from any responsibility for potential harm to the dress’s sequins and beads. Trusting the explanation, Curtis signed the receipt. However, upon receiving the dress back, she discovered unsightly stains on it. Dissatisfied, she initiated legal action against Chemical Cleaning. The defendant attempted to use the exclusion clause, which essentially absolved them from liability for “any damage, however arising.” In other words, the exclusion clause in reality was far wider than just to cover damages of sequins and beads.

Issue raised

Was the exemption clause valid? Could it prevent the liability of Chemical Cleaning?

Judgment of the Court in Curtis v Chemical Cleaning and Dyeing Co

The defendant relied on the exclusion clause. Nonetheless, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, reasoning that the defendant’s reliance on the clause was unfounded since they had misrepresented its true implications to Curtis.

It was held that the misrepresentation (although innocent) by the staff member regarding the scope of the clause overrode the fact that the plaintiff had signed the document.

The general rule when an exclusion clause is contained in a signed document

Exclusion clauses in a contract hold great significance. If the non-benefiting party has signed a document containing an exclusion clause, it generally means they are obligated by the terms of that clause, unless there was fraud or misrepresentation involved. Whether or not the signatory actually read the document becomes irrelevant. The key point is that once the document is signed, the signatory becomes bound by its contents, emphasizing the importance of being aware and understanding the implications before putting pen to paper.

List of references:

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