Fibrosa Spolka Akcyjna v Fairbairn Lawson Combe Barbour Ltd [1942]

Fibrosa Spolka Akcyjna v Fairbairn Lawson Combe Barbour Ltd [1942] UKHL 4 is a significant House of Lords decision that addresses the doctrine of frustration in English contract law. The case involves a contract between Fibrosa, a Polish textile company, and Fairbairn, a British firm, for the purchase of industrial machinery.

In July 1939, Fibrosa entered into a contract with Fairbairn to buy industrial machinery for £4,800. An advanced payment of £1,000 was made by Fibrosa, expecting the machinery to arrive within three to four months. However, the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 disrupted the contract. Fibrosa's agents sought a refund of the £1,000, as it became evident that machinery delivery for the Polish plant was impossible. Fairbairn refused, leading to legal proceedings initiated by Fibrosa in May 1940.

The House of Lords ruled in favour of Fibrosa. Viscount Simon criticised the Chandler case and specified that it applied only in cases where there was no failure of consideration. In this instance, there was a clear failure of consideration as Fibrosa received none of the ordered machinery. The frustration of the contract in this case did not fall under the rule in Chandler, allowing Fibrosa to succeed in its claim. Lord Wright highlighted that the claim was based on unjust enrichment, emphasising the need for legal remedies to prevent one party from retaining money or benefits against conscience.

The decision clarified the nature of actions for money had and received, which fall under the category of quasi-contract or restitution. Lord Mansfield's concept that the law implies a debt or obligation in cases of unjust enrichment was reinforced. The court recognised that the obligation belongs to a distinct category, neither purely contractual nor tortious.

The House of Lords rejected the idea of an actual promise but affirmed the law's implication of a debt or obligation based on the ties of natural justice and equity. Lord Mansfield's historical perspective on actions for money had and received as a means to prevent unjust enrichment was reaffirmed, emphasising the equitable nature of these actions.

In conclusion, this case established important principles regarding the doctrine of frustration and the legal remedies available in cases of unjust enrichment. The decision contributed to the development of quasi-contractual actions, emphasising their role in preventing unfair retention of money or benefits in situations where contracts are frustrated.
Back to blog

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law


    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory


    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.