Thorner v Major

David Thorner was a farmer who worked on Peter Thorner’s (his father’s cousin’s) farm for many years without payment. David was unmarried, Peter was widowed and childless. 

One day, Peter handed over a life insurance notice with the words “that’s for my death duties” and said and did other things that made David believe that he would inherit the farm.  But Peter never made a new Will. Did what he had done amount to an assurance sufficient to found a claim in proprietary estoppel? The trial judge said “yes”. The Court of Appeal were convinced that the answer should have been “no” and overturned the decision. The House of Lords was equally convinced that the answer was “yes” and restored it. 

The case is now one of three cases mentioned in the Supreme Court’s exhibition of the legal work that the House of Lords used to do, along with Donoghue v Stevenson, the basic case about the law of negligence and Anthony Bland, who was injured at Hillsborough and whose life support was switched off after a court decision.