17th May 2015
Implied term for satisfactory quality in contract for hire
It’s important to remember that a contract usually does not only include the terms which it expressly sets out. It may also contain terms implied into it, including under statute. Depending on the type of contract, there could be an implied term that goods or materials supplied are of satisfactory quality or that services will be supplied with reasonable skill and care.
A recent case, Baxter v Barnes  EWHC 54 (QB), is a useful illustration of the relevance of implied terms in an oral contract for hire of equipment.
The claimant had been employed to prune a large tree overhanging a house. As access to the site was limited and the tree was close to a slope, the claimant decided to use a specialised type of platform known as a “Spider”, designed for use in similar situations, and hired one from the defendant. The defendant also supplied the claimant with hard plastic plates to support the feet of the platform’s outriggers. In the course of the work the platform toppled over. The claimant suffered serious injuries as a result and sued the defendant for compensation.
The claimant argued, amongst other things, that the accident occurred because the defendant had breached the implied contractual term that the platform was to be of satisfactory quality. The contract was the oral contract for the hire of the platform. Under section 9(2) of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, where someone hires goods in the course of a business, there is an implied condition that the goods supplied under the contract are of satisfactory quality. Goods are of satisfactory quality if they meet the standard that a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory, taking into account any description of the goods, the consideration and all other relevant circumstances.
The High Court judge concluded that the defendant had been in breach of the implied term. The platform was designed for uses and terrains where an outrigger’s feet might move if they were not restrained by a plate. The plates supplied were suitable for use with another type of platform but not with a “Spider” platform. This platform should have been provided with plates attached to the outrigger feet or at least shaped to prevent the feet from slipping off. In this case the feet had slipped causing the accident. The judge considered that, because it was provided with plates from which the feet could stray whilst in normal operation, the platform was not of satisfactory quality and that this amounted to a breach of the implied term of satisfactory quality which had caused the accident. Therefore the claimant was liable for breach of contract.
The case is a useful reminder of the application of implied terms in contracts for hire. They could be relevant in many contexts, including in the hire of construction site equipment. It also highlights that the equipment’s suitability for the specific job at hand may well be relevant to whether it is of satisfactory quality.
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