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Bell v Lever bros [1932] AC 161 House of Lords

Lever bros appointed Mr Bell and Mr Snelling (the two defendants) as Chairman and Vice Chairman to run a subsidiary company called Niger. Under the contract of employment the appointments were to run 5 years. However, due to poor performance of the Niger company, Lever bros decided to merge Niger with another subsidiary and make the defendants redundant. Lever bros drew up a contract providing for substantial payments to each if they agreed to terminate their employment. The defendants accepted the offer and received the payments. However, it later transpired that the two defendants had committed serious breaches of duty which would have entitled Lever bros to end their employment without notice and without compensation. Lever bros brought an action based on mistake in that they entered the agreement thinking they were under a legal obligation to pay compensation.

The House of Lords held that this was only a mistake as to quality and did not render the contract essentially different from that which it was believed to be. The action therefore failed.

Back to lecture outline on Mistake in Contract Law