Adams v Lindsell is a landmark case in the law of contract, which established the rule for determining the time of acceptance of an offer sent by post. The case was heard in the Court of Exchequer in 1818.
In this case, the defendant, Lindsell, wrote to the plaintiffs, Adams, offering to sell them a quantity of wool. The letter was dated 2 September and posted on the same day. The plaintiffs received the letter on 5 September and immediately sent a letter of acceptance by post, which was received by the defendant on 9 September. However, by this time, the defendant had already sold the wool to a third party.
The issue before the court was whether the contract between the parties was formed on the date of the defendant’s offer or on the date of the plaintiff’s acceptance. The court held that the contract was formed at the time the acceptance was posted, not when it was received by the defendant. This rule became known as the postal rule or the mailbox rule.
The court reasoned that the postal service was a reliable and convenient method of communication and that it would be unfair to require the offeree to wait for the offeror’s actual receipt of the acceptance. The postal rule has since been applied in many cases and is now widely accepted as a part of the law of contract.