Proprietary estoppel: when reliance on an assurance is presumed

When a representation is made that is intended to influence the mind of the recipient and would have influenced the mind of a reasonable person, there is a presumption that any possible detrimental actions were performed in reliance on the representation. The burden of proof shifts to the defendant to show that there is no causal link between the representation and the alleged detrimental reliance.

In Greasley v Cooke ([1980] 1 WLR 1306, CA (Eng)) Miss Cooke had started to work as a live-in maid for a Mr Greasley. After 10 years she began to cohabit with one of the sons. She lived at the property for many years and looked after both the son and his mentally-ill sister. She had received assurances that she would be able to live at the property for the rest of her life. She sought a declaration that she was entitled to live at the property rent-free for the rest of her life. She succeeded in the Court of Appeal. The question was whether there was a causal link between the promises made to her and her actions in staying at the property. Would she have done so anyway? The English Court of Appeal held that once it is shown that the promises were intended to influence the judgment of a reasonable person then the causal link is presumed to exist. The onus is then on the defence to show that there had been no causal link.

Michael Lower

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