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2. Dickinson V Dodds April 3, 1876

This was a classic decision that informed millions of commercial and contractual negotiations since. It says that if you make an offer you can withdraw it at any time before it is accepted. The case concerned the sale of a property by the defendant, John Dodds. Initially, Dodds agreed to sell it for £800 to George Dickinson, giving him a couple of days to accept. But Dickinson’s letter of acceptance wasn’t received until it was too late, and in the mean time Dodds sold the property to another man. Dickinson sought a court order to force Dodds to sell him the property but the court refused. It held that anyone making an offer was entitled to retract it at any time before it was accepted. By selling the property to someone else, Dodds had retracted his offer.

3. Seaman V Netherclift December 16, 1876

In order to get the fairest and truest results from cases, it is very important that expert witnesses should speak freely and fearlessly. This case, in an era in which the use of expert witnesses was growing significantly, was a good illustration of how the courts were careful to give protection to witnesses against defamation actions. The defendant was a handwriting expert. He had given evidence in a case that a signature on a will was a forgery, though his view was not shared by the court. Later, in another case, also about a witness contesting a will, he expressed his opinion again during cross examination that the signature in the earlier case had been a “rank forgery”. That led to one of the attesting witnesses to that earlier will suing for slander. However, this case of slander was dismissed, as the remark was uttered in court while giving expert evidence and was therefore “privileged”.

4. Cundy V Lindsay March 4, 1878

This landmark judgment upheld the principle that you can’t pass on what you don’t own. Lindsay & Co was a linen manufacturer based in Belfast. Alfred Blenkarn, a resident of Cheapside in London, wrote to Lindsay proposing to buy a quantity of goods. He gave his address as “37, Wood Street, Cheapside” and signed the letters without using an initial or first name so that his signature appeared to read “Blenkiron & Co”. Lindsay knew there was a respectable firm, W Blenkiron & Son, based at 123 Wood Street, so it sent the goods. But Blenkarn didn’t pay, and instead sold the goods to the defendant. Lindsay sued the defendant for the value of the goods. The House of Lords held that because of the trick no contract had been concluded between Lindsay and Alfred Blenkarn. And because Blenkarn didn’t legally own the goods, he couldn’t legally transfer them to the defendant. Consequently, the defendant was ordered to pay Lindsay for the full value of the goods. Needless to say, as news of the decision percolated out into the commercial world, in which capitalism was rapidly developing, commercial buyers began to get very particular about ensuring sellers actually owned the goods they were selling.

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