Smith v Hughes (1870) LR 6 QB 597

Contract – Mistake – Breach of Contract – buyer beware – Caveat Emptor


The complainant, Mr Smith, was a farmer and the defendant, Mr Hughes, was a racehorse trainer. Mr Smith brought Mr Hughes a sample of his oats and as a consequence of what he had seen, Mr Hughes ordered 40-50 quarters of oats from Mr Smith, at a price of 34 shillings per quarter. To begin with, 16 quarters of oats were sent to Mr Hughes. When they arrived, he said that the oats were not what he had thought they were. As he was a racehorse trainer and he needed old oats, as this was what the horses had for their diet. The oats that were sent to Mr Hughes were green oats, the same type as the initial sample. Mr Hughes refused to pay Mr Smith for the delivery and remaining order.


Mr Smith argued that Mr Hughes had breached the contract as he had not paid for the delivery and future oats to be delivered. The issue in this case was whether the contract could be avoided by Mr Hughes, as Mr Smith had not delivered the type of oats he had expected.


It was held that there was a contract between Mr Smith and Mr Hughes and that it would not be avoided. There had been no discussion between the parties regarding the delivery of old oats. An objective test revealed that a reasonable person would expect the sale of good quality oats in a similar contract, since there was no express discussion of old oats. The sample gave him the chance to inspect the oats and this was an example of caveat emptor (buyer beware).