Causation and remoteness in contractual breach claims
Produced in partnership with Zainab Hodgson of CMS
Causation and remoteness in contractual breach claims

The following Dispute Resolution guidance note Produced in partnership with Zainab Hodgson of CMS provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Causation and remoteness in contractual breach claims
  • Causation required for breach of contract damages
  • Chain of causation (multiple causes) in contract breach claims
  • Intervening acts may break chain of causation (novus actus interveniens)
  • Recovering loss of chance damages in breach of contract claims
  • Remoteness—damage suffered attributable to the breach?
  • Remoteness—'recoverable loss' in breach of contract claims
  • Remoteness—defaulting party assuming responsibility for the loss suffered
  • Remoteness—loss of profits

When considering a claim for damages (see Practice Note: Contractual damages—general principles and related content), the court will consider the principles of causation and remoteness.

A party's duty to mitigate its loss is dealt with in Practice Note: Mitigation in contractual breach claims.

For guidance on causation in professional negligence claims, see Practice Note: Causation and remoteness in professional negligence claims.

For guidance on causation and remoteness in tort claims, see Practice Notes: Tort claims—causation as a matter of fact and Tort claims—causation in law.

Causation required for breach of contract damages

Causation is not a limit to recoverability, you need to establish causation to found a claim. Liability is limited to consequences, which are attributable to the wrongful act or breach of contract, ie there must be a causal connection between the breach and the loss sustained.

The traditional 'but for' test applies, essentially the question is: would the damage have accrued but for the defaulting party's action?

In Barnett v Chelsea and Kensington, three men vomited after drinking tea. They took themselves to the hospital where the deceased lay down, obviously appearing ill. The casualty doctor (himself ill) was telephoned and the situation explained to him, the doctor told the men to go home and call their own doctors. The deceased died some hours later from what was found to be arsenical poisoning.