BetterLawNotes-5 (2)

CONTRACT LAW

A claimant may only recover loss caused by the defendant’s breach. The breach need not be the sole cause of loss: it will suffice if the breach is the ‘dominant’ or ‘effective’ cause.

Stansbie v Trowman [1948] 2 KB 48

D had been decorating C’s house. While alone in the house, D had left to go and purchase more wallpaper. He closed the front door having left the Yale lock on the latch. Thus, while the door was closed it was unlocked and could be opened merely by turning the handle. While D was gone, a thief entered the house and stole property belonging to C. It was held that D had breached a term of the contract requiring him to take reasonable care for the security of the premises should he leave them during performance of the contract. The theft of C’s property was a direct result of the breach and accordingly D was liable.

So in Stansbie, D was liable for the loss of C’s property notwithstanding that the immediate cause of the loss was the removal of the property by the thief. Stansbie may be contrasted with that in Quinn v Burch Bros.

Quinn v Burch Bros (Builders) Ltd [1966] 2 QB 370

D was the main contractor on a building project and C was a sub-contractor carrying out plastering work. D had agreed to supply any equipment reasonably necessary for C’s work. C requested a step-ladder in order to plaster some ceilings but D failed to supply one. Instead, C used a trestle table which he propped against a wall. While he was standing on the table, it slipped, and he fell and was injured. The court held that D’s breach of contract had not caused C’s injury.

Where the loss is caused partly by the claimant’s own negligence, her damages may be reduced under the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, but the law in this area is not straightforward.

‘The question whether the 1945 Act applies to claims brought in contract can arise in a number of classes of case. These categories can conveniently be identified. (1) Where the defendant’s liability arises from some contractual provision which does not depend on negligence on the part of the defendant. (2) Where the defendant’s liability arises from a contractual obligation which is expressed in terms of taking care (or its equivalent) but does not correspond to a common law duty to take care which would exist in the given case independently of contract. (3) Where the defendant’s liability in contract is the same as his liability in the tort of negligence independently of the existence of any contract.’

Forsikringsaktieselskapet Vesta v Butcher [1989] AC 852 (Hobhouse J).

Barclays Bank plc v Fairclough Building Ltd [1995] QB 214

D had breached two provisions of its building contract with C. Both provisions required strict performance. The judge found that C had failed to supervise D’s work properly and reduced the damages payable to C by 40% to reflect C’s contributory fault. The Court of Appeal allowed C’s appeal: damages for breach of a strict contractual liability did not fall within the scope of the 1945 Act, and therefore C was entitled to recover damages in full.

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