What's the case about?
Mr Thornton drove to the NCP car park on Shoe Lane. There was a notice by the entrance stating 'All cars parked at owners risk'. He pulled up by the barrier, put some money into the machine and it issued a ticket. Mr Thornton drove through the barrier and parked his car. His ticket was printed with the time of issue and the following wording: 'This ticket is issued subject to the conditions of issue as displayed
on the premises.' A notice inside the car park gave more details of these conditions, including one that purported to exclude liability for personal injury. But Mr Thornton did not read the notice. When he returned to collect his car there was an accident and he was badly injured.
Mr Thornton brought a claim against the owners of the car park, arguing that they had caused his injuries and were liable to compensate him. The trial judge agreed that the owners were at least partly to blame, and ordered them to compensate Mr Thornton for 50% of his losses. The owners of the car park appealed, arguing that it was a condition of their contract with Mr Thornton that they would not be liable for any personal injury they caused him.
Where is it on the map?
At point A.
Mr Thornton won. The Court of Appeal, led by Lord Denning, dismissed the car park owners' appeal on the grounds that the condition purporting to exclude liability for personal injury was not a part of their contract with Mr Thornton.
What's the principle of law?
A term or condition (in this case, an exclusion clause) can only be incorporated into a contract if it is brought to the attention of the relevant party before the contract is formed. Lord Denning found that Mr Thornton's contract with the car park owners was formed when he put his money into the machine at the barrier. So, by the time Mr Thornton drove through the barrier, it was too late for the owners to try to exclude liability for any personal injury they might cause him. The notice at the entrance of the car park only sought to exclude liability for damage to cars. It did not give any kind of warning that the owners were seeking to exclude liability for personal injury too.
What's it like today?
The car park was situated beneath the International Press Centre on Shoe Lane. The car park and the International Press Centre were demolished earlier this year to make way for a new development which (confusingly) will be called 1 New Street Square. The International Press Centre was designed by Richard Seifert who also designed the Centre Point building on Tottenham Court Road. You can see some pre-demolition pictures of the International Press Centre here.
I visited Shoe Lane towards the end of the demolition works and was luck enough to be allowed to take some pictures on site. If you look closely, you can see a 'Way Out' notice still on the wall of the car park. Unfortunately the 'All cars parked at owners risk' notice and the notice showing the 'conditions' of parking seem to be long gone.