Chapelton v Barry UDC

 

[1940]1 KB 532

Court of Appeal

 

The facts are stated in the judgement of Slesser LJ.

 

Slesser LJ

 

This appeal arises out of an action brought by Mr David Chapelton against the Barry Urban District Council, and it raises a question of some importance to the very large number of people who are in the habit of using deck chairs to sit by the seaside at holiday resorts.

 

On June 3, 1939, Mr Chapelton went on to the beach at a place called Cold Knap, which is within the area of the Barry Urban District Council, and wished to sit down in a deck chair. On the beach, by the side of a cafe©, was a pile of deck chairs belonging to the defendants, and by the side of the deck chairs there was a notice put up in these terms: "Barry Urban District Council. Cold Knap. Hire of chairs, 2d per session of 3 hours." Then followed words which said that the public were respectfully requested to obtain tickets for their chairs from the chair attendants, and that those tickets must be retained for inspection.

 

Mr Chapelton, having taken two chairs from the attendant, one for himself and one for a Miss Andrews, who was with him, received two tickets from the attendant, glanced at them, and slipped them into his pocket. He said in the court below that he had no idea that there were any conditions on those tickets and that he did not know anything about what was on the back of them. He took the chairs to the beach and put them up in the ordinary way, setting them up firmly on a flat part of the beach, but when he sat down he had the misfortune to go through the canvas, and, unfortunately, had a bad jar, the result of which was that he suffered injury and had to see a doctor, and in respect of that he brought his action.

 

The learned county court judge has found that if he had been satisfied that the plaintiff had had a valid legal claim, he would have awarded him the sum of £50 in addition to the special damages claimed.

 

The learned county court judge also found that the accident to the plaintiff was due to the negligence on the part of the defendants in providing a chair for him which was unfit for its use which gave way in the manner which I have stated. But he nevertheless found in favour of the defendants by reason of the fact that on the ticket which was handed to Mr Chapelton when he took the chair appeared these words: "Available for 3 hours. Time expires where indicated by cut-off and should be retained and shown on request. The Council will not be liable for any accident or damage arising from hire of chair."

 

As I read the learned county court judge's judgement... he said that the plaintiff had sufficient notice of the special contract printed on the ticket and was, accordingly, bound thereby - that is to say, as I understand it, that the learned county court judge has treated this case as a similar to the many cases which have been tried in reference to conditions printed on tickets, and more particularly, on railway tickets - and he came to the conclusion that the local authority made an offer to hire out his chair to Mr Chapelton only on certain conditions, which appear on the ticket, namely, that they, the council, would not be responsible for any accident which arose from the use of the chair, and they say that Mr Chapelton hired the chair on the basis that that was one of the terms of the contract between him and themselves, the local authority.

 

Questions of this sort are always questions of difficulty and are very often largely questions of fact. In the class of case where it is said that there is a term in the contract freeing railway companies, or other providers of facilities, from liabilities which they would otherwise incur at common law, it is a question as to how far that condition has been made a term of the contract and whether it has been sufficiently brought to the notice of the person entering into the contract with the railway company, or other body, and there is a large number of authorities on that point. In my view, however, the present case does not come within that category at all. I think that the contract here, as appears from a consideration of all the circumstances, was this: The local authority offered to hire chairs to persons to sit upon on the beach, and there was a pile of chairs there standing ready for use by any one who wished to use them, and the conditions on which they offered persons the use of those chairs were stated in the notice which was put up by the pile of chairs, namely, that the sum charged for the hire of a chair was 2d per session of three hours. I think that was the whole of the offer which the local authority made in this case. They said, in effect: "We offer to provide you with a chair, and if you accept that offer and sit in the chair, you will have to pay for that privilege 2d per session of three hours."

 

I think that Mr Chapelton, in common with other persons who used these chairs, when he took the chair from the pile (which happened to be handed to him by an attendant, but which, I suppose, he might have taken from the pile of chairs himself if the attendant had been going on his rounds collecting money, or was otherwise away) simply thought that he was liable to pay 2d for the use of the chair. No suggestion of any restriction of the council's liability appeared in the notice which was near the pile of chairs. That, I think, is the proper view to take of the nature of the contract in this case. Then the notice contained these further words: "The public are respectfully requested to obtain tickets properly issued from the automatic punch in their presence from the Chair Attendants." The very language of that "respectful request" shows clearly, to my mind, that for the convenience of the local authority the public were asked to obtain from the chair attendants tickets, which were mere vouchers or receipts showing how long a person hiring a chair is entitled to use that chair. It is wrong, I think, to look at the circumstances that the plaintiff obtained his receipt at the same time as he took his chair as being in any way a modification of the contract which I have indicated. This was a general offer to the general public, and I think it is right to say that one must take into account here that there was no reason why anybody taking one of these chairs should necessarily obtain a receipt at the moment he took his chair - and, indeed, the notice is inconsistent with that, because it "respectfully requests" the public to obtain receipts for their money. It may be that somebody might sit in one of these chairs for one hour, or two hours, or, if the holiday resort was a very popular one, for a longer time, before the attendant came round for his money, or it may be that the attendant would not come to him at all for payment for the chair, in which case I take it there would be an obligation upon the person who used the chair to search out the attendant, like a debtor searching for his creditor, in order to pay him the sum of 2d for the use of the chair and to obtain a receipt for the 2d paid.

 

I think the learned count court judge has misunderstood the nature of the agreement. I do not think that the notice excluding liability was a term of the contract at all, and I find it unnecessary to refer to the different authorities which were cited to us, save that I would mention a passage in the judgement of Mellish L J in Parker v South Eastern Ry Co, where he points out that it may be that a receipt or ticket may not contain terms of the contract at all, but may be a mere voucher, where he says: "For instance, if a person, driving through a turnpike-gate received a ticket upon paying the toll, he might reasonably assume that the object of the ticket was that by producing it he might be free from paying toll at some other turnpike-gate, and might put it in his pocket unread." I think the object of the giving and taking of this ticket was that the person taking it might have evidence at hand by which he could show that the obligation he was under to pay 2d for the use of the chair for three hours had been duly discharged, and I think it is altogether inconsistent, in the absence of any qualification of liability in the notice put up near the pile of chairs, to attempt to read into it the qualification contended for. In my opinion, this ticket is no more than a receipt, and is quite different from a railway ticket which contains upon it the terms upon which a railway company agrees to carry the passenger. This, therefore, is not, I think, as Mr Ryder Richardson has argued, a question of fact for the learned county court judge. I think the learned county court judge as a matter of law has misconstrued this contract, and looking at all the circumstances of the case, has assumed that this condition on the ticket, or the terms upon which the ticket was issued, has disentitled the plaintiff to recover. The class of case which Sankey L J dealt with in Thompson v London, Midland and Scottish Ry Co, which seems to have influenced the learned county court judge in his decision, is entirely different from that which we have to consider in the present appeal.

 

This appeal should be allowed.