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CITATIONParker v South Eastern Railway Company (1877), 2 CPD 416
BENCHMellish, Baggallay, and Bramwell, L.JJ.


The legal matter of “Parker and Gabell v/s The South Eastern Railway Company, 1877” centers on a significant legal disagreement within common law. The English court concluded that neglecting to read the contract does not constitute a valid justification for disregarding its contractual provisions. This case serves as a prominent illustration of exclusion clauses within English contract law. Furthermore, the court emphasized the necessity for reasonable efforts to draw the customer’s attention to the exclusion clauses in the contract. It was established that the party relying on such a clause should present it prominently, using bold and eye-catching letters to ensure sufficient notice.


Upon submitting an item to the cloakroom at a railway station, a fee of 2d. is charged, and the depositor is issued a ticket. The ticket displays the opening and closing times of the cloakroom on the front, along with the instruction “see back.” On the reverse side, a notice is provided, stating that the company will not be held responsible for packages exceeding 10£. Additionally, a placard with the same condition, printed in legible characters, is displayed in the cloakroom.

The plaintiff entrusted his bag, valued at more than 10£, to the defendants’ cloakroom, paid the required 2d. fee, and received a ticket. Unfortunately, the bag was either lost or stolen. In the legal proceedings to claim its value, the plaintiff affirmed that he accepted the ticket without reading it, assuming it to be a mere receipt for the deposited item or proof that the company had received it. He asserted that he did not read the conditions on the back of the ticket and was unaware of the notice posted in the cloakroom.

During the trial, SERC (South Eastern Railway Company) contended that it had taken in the bags of both plaintiffs with the stipulation that it would not assume responsibility for the bag’s value if it exceeded 10£. Parker and Gabell, however, refuted having observed the notice displayed in the cloakroom or read the conditions on the back of the ticket. Parker explained that he believed the ticket served as a receipt, while Gabell thought it was proof of SERC receiving the bag. In the initial judgment, a jury ruled in favor of Parker and Gabell. Subsequently, SERC appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal. 


  1. Did the plaintiff read or was he aware of the special condition upon which the articles were deposited?
  2. Was the plaintiff, given the circumstances, required, with reasonable and appropriate care, to either read or become aware of the condition?


  1. The main argument by the appellant revolves around the notion that a person should not be bound by the terms printed on a document, such as a ticket, without being explicitly aware of its contents.
  1. The appellant asserts that it is unreasonable to expect individuals to read every document, especially when they reasonably believe it to be a voucher for goods. Drawing a parallel with turnpike or theater tickets, the argument suggests that people are not typically bound by the terms printed on such tickets without explicit notice.
  1.  The argument emphasizes that the issue is not solely a matter of legal interpretation but one of common sense. It argues that the determination of whether the individual is bound by the terms of the document should be left to the jury, as it involves a practical understanding.
  1. The appellant contends that the company, as a Bailee for hire, is prima facie liable. It places the burden on the company to demonstrate that they are not liable. This suggests that the default assumption should be in favor of the plaintiff unless the company can prove otherwise.
  1. The argument introduces a hypothetical scenario where the company includes a clause on the ticket stating that the goods will be forfeited if not redeemed within 24 hours. It questions whether such a condition would bind the plaintiff, emphasizing that the reasonableness of the condition should not be a decisive factor if the ticket is considered a contract.
  1. The appellant concludes by asserting that expecting individuals to read and comprehend the terms of every document, especially when it appears to be a standard receipt or voucher, is impractical and goes against common sense. It suggests that the general law of bailments should not be so absurd as to presume that bailors anticipate special conditions in every document.


  1. The respondent contends that there is no valid contract because both parties did not have a mutual understanding or agreement (consensus ad idem). The argument suggests that if there is a divergence in the interpretation of the terms, then there is no valid contract.
  1. The respondent points out that the plaintiff cannot claim ignorance of the terms on the ticket, especially when the plaintiff had previous experiences with similar tickets containing printed terms. The analogy is drawn that if someone is asked to read something and refuses, they cannot later claim lack of knowledge or understanding.
  1.  The respondent distinguishes the present case from the precedent of Henderson v. Stevenson, arguing that the circumstances are different. In Henderson v. Stevenson, the passenger took the ticket in a hurry and had no knowledge of its contents. Here, the respondent argues, the company is not obligated to act as common carriers and has the right to set terms for using their cloak-room service, emphasizing the limited liability they should bear for a minimal charge.
  1. The respondent asserts that it is unreasonable to expect the company to be liable for potential losses of significant value for a mere 2d charge. The argument suggests that the company is not acting as a warehouseman and is only providing a service for the convenience of passengers.


The court, in rejecting the appeal, ordered new trial, as the trial judge’s ruling that Parker was not obligated by terms he hadn’t read was deemed erroneous. Parker would not be obligated by terms he was unaware of on the note; however, if he was aware that the contract included specific terms or if those terms were visibly written on the note, he would be bound by them, provided that the court was convinced that sufficient notice had been given. If a plaintiff fails to encounter writing specifying the “conditions” of the contract, and no reasonable attempt is made to ensure their awareness of it, they are not bound by its terms. However, if the plaintiff does come across the writing, either by not reading it or not recognizing it as containing conditions, they will be bound by its terms as long as the defendant delivered it in a way that reasonably notified them of the existence of conditions on the ticket.


  1. The company argues that their servants were only authorized to receive goods on the terms contained in the ticket, including a limitation of liability to £10.
  1. Reference has been made to Harris v. Great Western Ry. Co., discussing whether the plaintiff must assent to the contract or treat the case as one with no contract and, consequently, no liability.
  1. It is argued that the company’s servants did not exceed their authority and acted as authorized by the company and considers whether the plaintiff is bound by the conditions on the ticket, discussing the necessity of proving assent to a written agreement and whether knowledge of the conditions is essential.
  1. A comparison is made with Henderson v. Stevenson, stating that if the person receiving the ticket does not know about the writing on the back, they are not bound by the conditions.
  1. It is suggested that if the person receiving a paper with writing knows it contains conditions, they are bound by them, even if they do not read the content. The railway company is said to be entitled to make assumptions about the person depositing luggage, including understanding the English language and paying reasonable attention.
  1. Relief was asked for proper direction to the jury, emphasizing that if the person did not see or know about the writing on the ticket, they are not bound by the conditions.
  1. It has been criticized that the judge’s direction to the jury, arguing that it was not accurate and might mislead the jury. The focus should be on whether the company did what was reasonably sufficient to give the plaintiff notice of the conditions.
  1. In this case there is legal complexities surrounding the modification of a bailment contract by a railway company through the delivery of tickets with conditions. It explores the burden of proof, the purpose of the ticket, and the awareness of depositors regarding the modified contract terms. The decision for a new trial is suggested due to concerns about the clarity of jury instructions in previous trials. 


The decision in case of “Parker and Gabell v/s The South Eastern Railway Company, 1877″ establishes a significant legal precedent in the common law and contract law. This case played a significant role in clarifying that if a document does not seem to have contractual terms, a person isn’t usually obligated by those terms. If it’s not clear the document is a contract, the person presenting it must reasonably let the other party know. They can assume the other party can read, unless they know otherwise. If proper notice is given, it doesn’t matter if the other party didn’t actually read the document.


  1. https://casebrief.fandom.com/wiki/Parker_v_South_Eastern_Railway_Company
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parker_v_South_Eastern_Rly_Co
  3. http://www.scconline.com

This Article is written by Saumya Raj student of ILS Law College, Pune; Intern at Legal Vidhiya.

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