Olley v Marlborough Court: CA 1949

The plaintiff hired a hotel bedroom. It was found that the contract between the party hiring the bedroom and the hotel was made before the guest had access to the bedroom. In the hotel bedroom, there was a notice which sought to limit the hotel’s liability in respect of valuables that had not been deposited with the hotel. Mrs Olley found that furs and jewellery and other items were missing from her bedroom at a later stage during the course of her stay. The hotel tried to restrict its liability in respect of the loss by reliance on the notice in the plaintiff’s bedroom.
Held: She succeeded. A standard contract, which imposes terms on a party and purports to reduce liability on a contracting party, must be communicated to the other party and the circumstances must show an intention to be bound by it.
Denning LJ said: ‘Now people who rely on a contract to exempt themselves from their common law liability must prove that contract strictly. Not only must the terms of the contract be clearly proved, but also the intention to create legal relations – the intention to be legally bound – must also be clearly proved. The best way of proving it is by a written document signed by the party to be bound. Another way is by handing him before or at the time of the contract a written notice specifying its terms and making it clear to him that the contract is on those terms. A prominent public notice which is plain for him to see when he makes the contract or an express oral stipulation would, no doubt, have the same effect. But nothing short of one of these three ways will suffice . . So, also, in my opinion, notices put up in bedrooms do not of themselves make a contract. As a rule, the guest does not see them until after he has been accepted as a guest. The hotel company no doubt hope that the guest will be held bound by them, but the hope is vain unless they clearly show that he agreed to be bound by them, which is rarely the case.’
and ‘Ample content can be given to the notice by construing it as a warning that the hotel company is not liable, in the absence of negligence, As such it serves a useful purpose. It is a warning to the guest that he must do his part to take care of his things himself, and, if needs be, ensure them. It is unnecessary to go further and to construe the notice as a contractual exemption of the hotel company from their common law liability for negligence.’

Denning LJ
[1949] 1 KB 532, [1949] 1 All ER 127
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedHeythrop Zoological Gardens Ltd (T/A Amazing Animals) and Another v Captive Animals Protection Society ChD 20-May-2016
The claimant said that the defendant had, through its members visiting their premises, breached the licence under which they entered, by taking photographs and distributing them on the internet, and in so doing also infringing the performance rights . .
CitedHollier v Rambler Motors (AMC) Ltd CA 19-Nov-1971
The plaintiff left his car with the defendant garage for repair. Whilst there it was substantially damaged by fire. The defendant sought to rely upon their terms which would negative liability, saying that the terms had been incorporated by . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Leading Case

Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.565566