Poussard v Spiers

Poussard v Spiers and Pond (1876): A Quick Summary

Case name & citation: Poussard v Spiers and Pond (1876) 1 QBD 410

  • Court and jurisdiction: Divisional Court; England and Wales
  • Decided on: 25 April 1876
  • The bench of judges: Blackburn, Quain and Field, JJ.
  • Area of law: Breach of a condition; termination of the contract

What is the case about?

This is a famous contract law case in which a term in a contract was identified as a condition so that its breach entitled the innocent party to terminate the contract.

Facts of the case (Poussard v Spiers)

In Poussard v Spiers and Pond (1876), the defendants (Spiers and Pond) entered into a contract with the plaintiff (Poussard) to perform in an opera at the Criterion Theatre for specified dates. The plaintiff was a singer. The opera was scheduled to open on November 28, 1874, and the contract was made for up to three months. She became unwell right before the opening night and a week passed before she was well enough and could perform. By the time she arrived, a substitute had been employed by the defendants. The plaintiff sued for breach of contract after the defendants informed her that she was no longer needed for the position. The defendants contended that because her failure to attend on the opening night was a breach of a condition of the contract, they were entitled to terminate it.

Issue that arose

The question, in this case, was whether the plaintiff’s failure to appear on the opening day of performance amounted to a breach of a condition of the contract.

Judgment of the Court in Poussard v Spiers

The court decided that because the illness was of an uncertain nature, the only options available to the defendants were to either postpone the opera and incur financial loss or engage another opera singer (which actually happened). Given the specialized nature of the position and the difficulties in finding a temporary replacement, it was reasonable to replace the plaintiff permanently for the season.

According to Blackburn J, Madame Poussard’s failure to arrive went “to the root of the matter” and as a result, the defendants were released from further execution of the contract. It amounted to a breach of a condition and they were entitled to terminate the contract.

Comparing to Bettini v Gye Case

The case of Poussard v Spiers can be contrasted with a similar case of Bettini v Gye. Both cases concerned singers.

In Bettini v Gye, the singer was obligated to be present for rehearsals at least six days before the commencement of the performance. Again, he was delayed and missed a few rehearsals due to illness. On this occasion, the court considered the failure to attend the rehearsals as a breach that was non-repudiatory. In contrast, in Poussard v Spiers, it was determined that the failure to comply with the requirement to be present for performance was significantly more serious than Bettini’s failure to comply with the requirement to be there for a rehearsal. The former breach had a far more significant impact on the fundamental purpose of the contract than the latter.

You may also want to refer to the summary of Bettini v Gye (1876) for more details on the categorization of terms in a contract and the consequences of their breach.

List of references:

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