Luxmoore May v Messenger

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Luxmoore-May v Messenger May Baverstock [1990] 1 WLR 1009



The defendant auctioneer valued two paintings owned by the claimant as being worth £30, deciding that the quality of the painting was not high enough for it to be a genuine article by a sought-after artist. This was based on both a visual inspection and specialist means such as X-Rays. A third-party later sold the paintings for £88,000. The claimant sued the defendant in the tort of negligence for underselling the paintings.


Establishing negligence involves showing that the defendant breached their duty of care to the claimant. To establish breach, the claimant must establish that the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would in their position. Professional defendants must act as a reasonable professional would.

The issue in this case was the standard of care owed to sellers by auctioneers.


No liability.

The Court of Appeal held that the standard of care owed by auctioneers was to give a considered opinion as to the value of the goods. The standard will be higher if the auctioneer specialises in the types of goods in issue, but not if they are a generalist auction house. It does not matter if other professionals would differ in their valuation: merely because the auctioneer got it wrong does not make them negligent.

The defendant had followed all tests and practices which were usual in a generalist valuation. Nothing in the tests ought to have put the defendant on notice that the painting might be the genuine article. Since they were merely a generalist auction house, they were not obliged to carry out other tests. They had therefore given a properly considered opinion and were not negligent.

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