Smith v Eric S Bush [1990]

Smith v Eric S Bush [1990] UKHL 1 is a significant case in English tort law and contract law, heard by the House of Lords. The case dealt with two main issues: the existence of a duty of care in tort for negligent misstatements and the reasonableness of a term excluding liability under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 (UCTA).

A surveyor, Eric Bush, employed by Abbey National, was tasked with inspecting and valuing a property in Norwich for a purchaser, Mrs Smith. The valuation incorrectly stated that no essential repairs were needed. Mrs Smith relied on this information and purchased the house. Subsequently, significant damage occurred due to collapsed chimney bricks. Mrs Smith argued for a duty of care in tort and challenged the exclusion clause under UCTA 1977.

Mrs Smith claimed that there was a duty of care in tort to exercise care in making statements, and she also challenged the reasonableness of the clause excluding liability under UCTA 1977. The case was joined with another appeal, Harris v Wyre Forest District Council, where a similar issue arose regarding a disclaimer by a council in a property valuation.

The House of Lords held that it was not unreasonable for a purchaser, particularly in the case of a modest house, to rely on the surveyor's evaluation. This decision extended the concept of Hedley Byrne liability to proximate third parties, emphasising the common practice of relying on surveyors' evaluations in property transactions.

Regarding the UCTA 1977, the Lords clarified that the Act regulated exclusion notices that would provide a defence to an action for negligence. The court applied a but-for test under Section 13 of the Act, assessing whether a duty of care would exist but for the exclusion. The Lords concluded that, in the context of a private citizen making one of the most expensive purchases in their lifetime, it was more reasonable for a professional surveyor to bear the risk of liability. However, they acknowledged that not all exclusion clauses used by surveyors would be deemed unreasonable, citing instances such as large property developments.

Smith v Eric S Bush is noteworthy for its impact on the extension of liability to third parties in tort law and the application of reasonableness tests under UCTA 1977. The decision emphasised the importance of considering the reasonableness of exclusion clauses in specific contexts and acknowledged that such clauses might be acceptable in certain situations, contributing to the ongoing development of negligence and contract law in the United Kingdom.
Back to blog
UOL Case Bank

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law


    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory


    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.