Legal Hypothetical: Court considers promise made to worker

ROBERT has lived and worked on a vegetable farm for 40 years.

Robert had an agreement with the owner which allowed him to grow crops and maintain the property in return for a share of the profits.

He was also given the right to reside in a cottage on the property.

During the course of Robert’s occupation of the property, the owner made several promises to him to the effect that the farm would pass to Robert upon the owner’s death.

Many years later, the owner passes-away but under his will, he leaves the farm to his daughter, Alice.

Robert commences action in the Supreme Court.

He seeks orders that the farm be transferred to him on the basis of the owner’s promises, under a remedy known as “estoppel by encouragement”.

Robert says that in reliance upon the promises, he continued to work on the farm and did not make any attempt to build a superannuation fund or consider how he might acquire a home of his own.

The Court rules that in the circumstances, Robert only stayed at the farm because of a “reliance” on the promises and that it was reasonable for Robert to expect the promises to be fulfilled.

The Court states that Robert would have ceased farming the property and pursued a more lucrative occupation if he had not relied on the promises and that Robert had therefore sufficiently established that he had suffered “detriment”.

Finally, the Court finds that it was “unconscionable” for the promises to go unfulfilled and made orders that Robert was entitled to become the registered proprietor of the farm.

Alice appealed the decision and the Court of Appeal, who again found in Robert’s favour.

This case demonstrates that whilst verbal promises can be upheld in a court of law, it is important to reduce agreements to writing with a view to avoiding the costs and uncertainties associated with court action.

Email Manny Wood, Principal Solicitor and Accredited Specialist in Wills and Estates at TB Law at or call him on (02) 66 487 487.

This column is only accurate at today’s date and is not legal advice.

By Manny WOOD, Solicitor

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