Jim Whitney

Jim Whitney
Economics 495
Case summary brief (2-page maximum)
Recorder name:
Case name:
Citation; Date:
Josh Erdman
Taylor v Caldwell (1863)
[1863] EWHC QB J1 – 122 ER 309; 3 B. & S. 826, Decided 6 May 1863
Queen’s Bench (England)
Name (if specified) and description of litigants at the original trial court level
Taylor – concert organizer
Caldwell – owner of The Surrey Gardens Music Hall and Gardens
Facts of the case:
A contract was formed between the two parties on May 27, 1861. The contract gave the plaintiff
permission to use defendant’s venue for a series of 4 grand concerts and day and night fetes on specified
dates at a cost of 100l. After making the agreement, but before the first day on which a concert was to be
given, the Hall was destroyed by fire.
Procedural history (remedy sought, prior rulings, grounds for appeal, etc., as available):
Remedy Sought: The plaintiff sued the defendant for damages that resulted from the breach of contract.
Plaintiff cited damages resulted from the inability to use The Surrey Music Hall and Gardens as agreed to
in the contract, in addition to the plaintiff’s lost diver moneys paid for printing concert advertisements, lost
sums expended and expenses incurred in preparation for the concerts, and on the faith of the defendant’s
Court opinion (key issues and arguments):
The existence of the Music Hall in a state fit for the concert was essential for the fulfillment of the contract.
Because the fire was of no fault to either party and was so complete that the concerts could not be given
as intended, the court had to decide if the loss suffered by the plaintiff falls on the defendant. The court
decided that because the framed agreement in the contract made no express stipulation with reference to
such a disaster, the general rules of law must be applied in deciding damages. Ultimately, the court
decided that a ‘frustration of purpose’ due to impossibility excuses performance. The court likened the
case to examples of contracts that concerned slaves, living animals, and authors/painters. Using debtor
corporis certi, the court found that a freedom from obligation results when the thing has perished
unexpectedly--neither by his act, nor his neglect.
Dissenting opinion, if any (key issues and arguments):
Disposition of case:
Absolute rule for defendants. The defendants are not liable for the destruction of their facility and therefore
do not owe damages to the plaintiff.
1. Course topic of the case:
Contract Law
2. How does the case relate to the course topic?
The law regarding the breach of contract. Impossibility of no fault to either party excuses performance.
3. Which previously assigned cases, if any, are related to this case, and how does this one differ?
Cases related to the breaking of contracts:
1) Goebel v Linn (1882)
2) Walgreen v Sara Creek (1992)
This case differs because the excused performance resulted from the perishing of the person or thing
required for performance. The other cases illustrate efficient breaks of contract due to dire straights and
specific performance. The last case does not illustrate a break of contract, but an upholding of one in
which damages are preferred (normally) to the requested injunction. The appellate court will not reexamine
a final judgment to determine if it would come to the same conclusion, it will only determine whether the
trial court exceeded its boundaries in its decision. It did not, so it upheld the contract despite Sara Creek’s
attempted breach.
4. How does the case affect economic incentives and efficiency?
Incentivizes individuals to specify unforeseen situations/disasters when contracting. Contracts are Paretoimproving. Because unforeseen situations of no fault to either party can affect one party more than the
other, it would be inefficient to uphold performance when performance is impossible.