Taylor v. Caldwell

3 B. & S. 826, 122 Eng. Rep. 309 (1863)

Quick Summary

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Taylor (plaintiff) sued Caldwell (defendant) for damages after the Surrey Gardens and Music Hall, rented by Taylor for concerts, was destroyed by fire. The court ruled that Caldwell was not liable due to the doctrine of impossibility, which excused performance when the hall was destroyed through no fault of either party.

Facts of the Case

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Caldwell owned The Surrey Gardens and Music Hall and agreed to rent it to Taylor for four separate days at a rate of one hundred pounds per day. The purpose of this agreement was for Taylor to host a series of concerts, with provisions related to concert supplies and equipment in the contract.

Before the first concert took place, the hall was completely destroyed by fire. This unforeseen event rendered it impossible for Taylor to hold the concerts as planned. Consequently, Taylor filed suit against Caldwell seeking damages for expenses incurred in advertising and preparing for the events. Taylor alleged that Caldwell breached the contract by failing to provide use of The Surrey Gardens and Music Hall as agreed.

The defendant argued that an implied condition existed within the contract, excusing performance if the hall was destroyed without fault from either party.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Taylor initially brought a breach of contract claim in a lower court against Caldwell, seeking damages.
  2. The lower court ruled in favor of Taylor.
  3. Caldwell appealed, arguing that the destruction excused him from his contractual obligations due to an implied condition of impossibility.
  4. An intermediate appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision.
  5. Caldwell further appealed to the Queen’s Bench, seeking reversal based on the doctrine of impossibility due to the destruction of the hall.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether Caldwell is liable for damages despite the destruction of the location, which made performance of the contract impossible.

Rule of Law

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A contract has an implied condition that if it becomes impossible to fulfill due to the loss of a necessary element, and neither party is at fault, the parties are excused from performing. This is known as the “doctrine of impossibility.”

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The court reasoned that both parties had entered into the contract with the understanding that The Surrey Gardens and Music Hall would be available for the concerts.

Since the hall was essential for fulfilling the contract, its destruction without fault of either party meant that the contract could not be completed as intended.

The court found that an implied condition of the contract was that both parties would be excused from their obligations if the hall ceased to exist.

The doctrine of impossibility was applied because the unforeseen destruction of the hall made it impossible to carry out the concerts. The court concluded that neither party should bear the loss resulting from this impossibility, thus absolving Caldwell from liability for Taylor’s expenses.


Conclusion Icon

The Queen’s Bench ruled in favor of Caldwell, holding that he was discharged from performing his contractual obligations due to the doctrine of impossibility. The judgment reversed the lower courts’ decisions and entered a verdict for Caldwell.

Key Takeaways

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The doctrine of impossibility can excuse parties from contractual obligations if performance becomes impossible due to unforeseen events beyond their control.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What are potential remedies when a party has prepared for performance but becomes unable due to external events?

In such cases where performance becomes impossible due to external events, remedies may include recovering restitution for any unjust enrichment, but generally, parties cannot recover for lost profits or preparations as performance has been excused.

  • For example: A band spends money on travel arrangements to perform at a festival, but the festival is canceled due to hurricane damage to the venue. The band may recover costs spent on non-refundable travel expenses but not anticipated profits from performing.
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