Thornton v Shoe Lane Parking Ltd

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Citation: [1971] 2 QB 163 This information can be found in the Casebook: Paterson, Robertson & Duke, Contract: Cases and Materials (Lawbook Co, 11th ed, 2009), pp. 364-7


Background facts

  • Plaintiff parked his car in a car-park owned by the Plaintiff
  • The Plaintiff has never been to that car-park before.
  • A notice on the outside listed the charges and other terms.
    • On term was 'All cars parked at own risk'.
  • Once inside, he was issued a ticket on which it was written, in fine print, 'This ticket is issued subject to the conditions of issue as displayed on the premises'.
    • Those conditions were displayed inside the parking garage, namely, the Plaintiff could have only seen them after he had purchased the ticket.
    • One of the conditions exempted the Defendant from liability from 'injury to the customer however caused'.

Legal issues



Lord Denning MR:

  • The court distinguishes cases of automated machines such as this from normal ticket cases.
  • In the case of automated machines, where the customer cannot get his money back, "the offer is made when the proprietor of the machine holds it out as being ready to receive the money. The acceptance takes place when the customer puts his money into the slot. The terms of the offer are contained in the notice placed on or near the machine stating what is offered for the money. The customer is bound by those terms as long as they are sufficiently brought to his notice beforehand, but not otherwise. He is not bound by the terms printed on the ticket if they differ from the notice, because the ticket comes too late. The contract has already been made.[1]"
  • Thus, terms could only be incorporated if they were displayed next/before the ticket machine. In this case, the terms stated on the ticket itself (which refers to a location which can only be accessed after purchasing it) cannot be incorporated, since the contract had already been made.
    • The offer was accepted when Mr Thornton [Plaintiff] drove up to the entrance and, by the movement of his car, turned the light from red to green, and the ticket was thrust at him. The contract was then concluded, and it could not be altered by any words printed on the ticket itself. In particular, it could not be altered so as to exempt the company from liability for personal injury due to their negligence.[2]"
  • Thus, only the terms on display outside the parking garage are incorporated.

Knowledge or notice

Lord Denning also considered the outcome if there is no distinction between a ticket clerk or an automated machine.

  • In this case, the usual ticket cases apply and terms can be incorporated through the ticket itself.
  • However, a clause can only be incorporated if the customer "knows that the ticket is subject to it; or, if the company did what was reasonably sufficient to give him notice of it.[3]"
  • The Defendant claimed that whilst the company didn't do what was reasonably sufficient to give notice, the Plaintiff was aware that the ticket included conditions (thus satisfying one of the requirements)
    • The court found no evidence that the the Plaintiff was aware that the ticket included conditions, and therefore this claim was rejected.
  • The knowledge or notice requirement therefore fails, and the Plaintiff is not bound by the exempting clause.

Megaw LJ:

  • If the terms written on the notice inside are to be incorporated, the Defendant would have had to intend that customers would park their car in the entrance, leave it (blocking traffic) and go read the terms and conditions deep inside the parking lot.
  • Since it is clearly not the expectation of the Defendant, the Plaintiff was not given reasonable notice of the terms or a fair opportunity to discover the conditions of the contract.


  1. [1971] 2 QB 163, 169. Also relying on Olley v Marlborough Court Ltd [1949] 1 KB 532
  2. [1971] 2 QB 163, 169
  3. [1971] 2 QB 163, 170
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