References: (1841) 9 M and W 54
Coram: Parke B, Lord Abinger CB, Gurney B, Rolfe B
Ratio: Recovery was sought of money (andpound;200) paid an error of fact. There had been a life policy, but it had lapsed before the death of the life assured. The policy had been marked ‘lapsed’ but the marking had been overlooked.
Held: Where money is paid to another under the influence of a mistake in circumstances where if the true facts had been known the money would not have been paid, an action lies to recover the money and it is against the conscience of the recipient to retain it. Parke B said of Bilbie v Lumley that ‘All that that case decides is, that money paid with full knowledge of all the facts cannot be recovered back by reason of its having been paid in ignorance of the law’
A payment made in the knowledge that there was a ground to contest liability will be irrecoverable (Lord Abinger CB).
Lord Abinger CB accepted that Baron CB had put the matter too broadly at trial by using the expression ‘means of knowledge’. This was a very vague expression, and: ‘The safest rule however is, that if the party makes the payment with full knowledge of the facts, although under ignorance of the law, there being no fraud on the other side, he cannot recover it back again. There may also be cases in which, although he might by investigation learn the state of facts more accurately, he declines to do so, and chooses to pay the money notwithstanding; in that case there can be no doubt that he is equally bound. Then there is a third case, and the most difficult one, – where the party had once a full knowledge of the facts, but has since forgotten them. I certainly laid down the rule too widely to the jury, when I told them that if the directors once knew the facts they must be taken still to know them, and could not recover by saying that they had since forgotten them. I think the knowledge of the facts which disentitles the party from recovering, must mean a knowledge existing in the mind at the time of payment.’
Parke B agreed and said: ‘If, indeed, the money is intentionally paid, without reference to the truth or falsehood of the fact, the plaintiff meaning to waive all inquiry into it, and that the person receiving shall have the money at all events, whether the fact be true or false, the latter is certainly entitled to retain it; but if it is paid under the impression of the truth of a fact which is untrue, it may, generally speaking, be recovered back, however careless the party paying may have been, in omitting to use due diligence to inquire into the fact. In such a case the receiver was not entitled to it, nor intended to have it.’
Rolfe B mentioned two interpretations of the facts available to the jury: ‘first, that the jury may possibly find that the directors had not in truth forgotten the fact; and secondly, they may also come to the conclusion, that they had determined that they would not expose the office to unpopularity, and would therefore pay the money at all events.’
Jurisdiction: England and Wales
This case cites:
- Cited – Bilbie v Lumley and Others ((1802) 2 East 469, Commonlii,  EngR 245, (1802) 102 ER 448)
An underwriter paid a claim under a policy which he was entitled in law to repudiate for non-disclosure. Although he knew the relevant facts, he was not aware of their legal significance. He claimed back the money he had paid.
Held: A contract . .
(This list may be incomplete)
This case is cited by:
- Cited – Kleinwort Benson Ltd v Lincoln City Council etc HL (Gazette 18-Nov-98, Gazette 10-Feb-99, Times 30-Oct-98, House of Lords, Bailii,  UKHL 38,  2 AC 349,  4 All ER 513,  3 WLR 1095,  Lloyds Rep Bank 387)
Kleinwort Benson had made payments to a local authority under swap agreements which were thought to be legally enforceable. Subsequently, a decision of the House of Lords, (Hazell v. Hammersmith and Fulham) established that such swap agreements were . .
- Cited – Fisher v Brooker and Another ChD (Bailii,  EWHC 3239 (Ch))
The claimant said that he had contributed to the copyright in the song ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ but had been denied royalties. He had played the organ and particularly the organ solo which had contrbuted significantly to the fame of the record.
(This list may be incomplete)
Last Update: 18 March 2019