Lewis v Averay [1972]

Lewis v Averay [1972] 1 QB 198 is a notable English contract law case on fraudulent misrepresentation and mistake about identity, the court grappled with the consequences of a rogue's impersonation in a car sale transaction.

The facts of the case involved a rogue who, pretending to be the popular actor Richard Greene from The Adventures of Robin Hood TV series, approached the plaintiff in response to a car advertisement. The rogue offered to buy the car at the advertised price of £450, using the false name Richard Greene. The rogue presented a cheque bearing the signature "R. A. Greene", obtained possession of the car, but the cheque ultimately bounced as the impersonator was not the real Richard Greene. Subsequently, the rogue sold the car to Averay, a third party who bought it in good faith. The plaintiff brought an action against Averay for conversion.

In its judgment, the Court of Appeal, drawing on the precedent set in Phillips v Brooks [1919], held that despite the mistake made by the plaintiff regarding the identity of the buyer, a valid contract had been completed with the rogue. Lord Denning MR emphasised that there was no operative mistake, and the property had passed to the rogue. As a result, Averay, who had purchased the car in good faith from the rogue, was entitled to keep the car.

Lord Denning MR's reasoning emphasised the principle that once a contract has been completed, even if based on a fraudulent misrepresentation of identity, the property rights pass to the rogue or the impersonator. The court distinguished the case from Ingram v Little [1961], considering it to have special facts that did not apply in Lewis v Averay. The decision highlighted the importance of protecting innocent third-party purchasers who acquire property in good faith, even when the initial transaction involves fraudulent misrepresentation or impersonation.
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