Bisset v Wilkinson [1927]

Bisset v Wilkinson [1927] AC 177 is a significant contract law case that deals with the issue of misrepresentation. The key principle established by the case is that a mere misstatement of opinion, given fairly, cannot amount to a misrepresentation.

In New Zealand in May 1919, Mr Bisset entered into a contract to sell two blocks of farmland to Mr Wilkinson. During negotiations, Bisset expressed his opinion that the farm would carry 2,000 sheep with a good six-horse team. After two years of unsuccessful farming, Wilkinson claimed that the land could not support 2,000 sheep and brought an action for misrepresentation to cancel the contract and seek a refund.

The Privy Council, the final appeal court for New Zealand at the time, held that the statements about the farmland made by Bisset could not amount to a serious representation. The key considerations were the material facts of the transaction, the knowledge of the respective parties, the words of representation used, and the actual condition of the subject matter. The crucial fact was that both parties were aware that Bisset had not used the land for sheep farming, and the statement about the land's capacity was considered an estimate rather than a factual representation.

Lord Merrivale, giving the leading judgment, emphasised the importance of considering the context, knowledge of the parties, and the nature of the statement. He noted that a misstatement of opinion, intention, or law is not actionable unless the person making the statement has specialist knowledge that makes the statement effectively a statement of fact.

This case clarifies the distinction between misstatements of fact and opinion in the context of misrepresentation. It establishes that a misstatement of opinion, given fairly, is not actionable unless it amounts to a statement of fact due to the party's specialist knowledge. This principle has been cited and applied in subsequent cases, providing guidance on the requirements for a misrepresentation claim.
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