Understanding the Law
September 20, 2013

That word “liable”

This word “liable” must have been used more extensively than any other in the law. In our regular interaction, we speak of being responsible for our actions, but in law, the word liable is used instead and it has legal implications. Black’s Law Dictionary states that a person is liable when that person is responsible and is answerable and compelled to make compensation or satisfaction for something that was done or that was not done.{{more}}

In criminal law, a person is liable to stand trial when he or she commits a crime. He is liable in civil law where he does or fails to do something. The word is used more frequently in contract law, where he breaches the clauses in the contract. It thereafter becomes the duty of the judge, when the matter comes before the court, to determine who is liable. One relevant matter is a contract to build a house. Very frequently one hears tales of woes from family and friends about a building contract that went wrong. In this article, I will draw from the case of Isaac v Browne, (No 250 of 2010), a case decided in SVG, regarding a construction contract that went wrong and I will refer to the categories of payment that were imposed on the builder who had breached the contract.

The claimants contracted the defendant to build a two-storey house, but the defendant failed to complete the house in the time stipulated and despite the extension of time, the house was still not completed. The claimants took the matter to court and won their case and the claimants appeared before Master Lanns for an assessment of damages. The claimants supported the itemized claim with the necessary documents, such as the building plans, the building contract, letters, invoices, receipts of payment and expert reports, which were attached to the affidavits. The claims were for special damages and general damages which are the usual claims made when a contract is breached.

Special damages

Under the heading of special damages, a claim was made for the payment of a quantity surveyor, that is the person who prepared the estimates. This type of payment is supposed to be strictly pleaded by presenting a receipt. It was, however, pleaded but the claimant had an invoice instead of a receipt. However, the case of Greer v Alston Engineering Sales (2003) No 63 WIR 388 para 7,8 and 9, the authority on this issue, was followed. According to the view, notwithstanding proof of the fact that the claimant cannot prove convincingly special damages, a claim could be awarded in a nominal sum that is not too much out of scale. The master decided that the sum was not unreasonable.

General damages

The general damages claimed included the sum paid to the defendant less the contractual costs, monies needed to finish the house, monies for the delay, for repairs, for discomfort and inconvenience.

There are numerous precedents in support of the above claims. Generally when a person breaches a contract, the non-breaching party should, as far as money could do, be placed in a position, with regards to damages, as if the contract had been performed. The damages in respect of breach must be such as may be fairly and reasonably be considered arising from the contract and would have been in the contemplation of the parties at the time of the formation of the contract.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com