Barclays Bank Ltd v Fairclough Building Ltd [1994]

Barclays Bank Ltd v Fairclough Building Ltd [1994] 3 WLR 1057 revolved around contributory negligence and its application to contractual damages.

Fairclough Building Ltd failed to take proper precautions in cleaning the roofs of a storage warehouse owned by Barclays Bank Ltd. This failure resulted in asbestos contamination, necessitating remedial work that incurred costs of £4 million. When Barclays Bank sued Fairclough Building for breach of contract, the defendant alleged that the damages should be reduced due to contributory negligence on the part of the claimant, asserting that Barclays Bank had failed to supervise the work adequately.

The Court of Appeal held that contributory negligence did not apply to reduce damages in the context of a strict contractual obligation. Beldam LJ emphasised that contributory negligence is not a defence to a claim for damages based on a breach of a strict contractual obligation. However, he noted that if the liability for breach of contract were the same as and coextensive with an independent liability in tort, the defence of contributory negligence would apply. In the present case, there was no tortious liability.

Nourse LJ supported this position by stating that only defences such as release, waiver, forbearance, and the like are available in contract law. He pointed out that the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act was never intended to intrude into contract law. In essence, the court clarified that contributory negligence does not diminish contractual damages when the claim is based on a breach of a strict contractual obligation without a concurrent tortious liability.
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