7 Jan 2010

Liquidated damages: The principle revisited


In a recent decision the Delhi High Court has succinctly explained the principles for grant of liquidated damages.The High Court referred to Section 73 and 74 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 which codify the principles for grant of damages under Indian law and various landmark decisions of the Supreme Court to enunciate the settled position of law as under;
11. It would be necessary to extract Section 73 and 74 of the Indian Contract Act. They are as follows: -
73. Compensation for loss or damage caused by breach of contract. When a contract has been broken, the party who suffers by such breach is entitled to receive, from the party who has broken the contract, compensation for any loss or damage caused to him thereby, which naturally arose in the usual course of things from such breach, or which the parties knew, when they made the contract, to be likely to result from the breach of it. 
Such compensation is not to be given for any remote and indirect loss or damage sustained by reason of the breach. Compensation for failure to discharge obligation resembling those created by contract
When an obligation resembling those created by contract has been incurred and has not been discharged, any person injured by the failure to discharge it is entitled to receive the same compensation from the party in default, as if such person had contracted to discharge it and had broken his contract. 
Explanation - In estimating the loss or damage arising from a breach of contract, the means which existed of remedying the inconvenience caused by the non-performance of the contract must be taken into account.
74. Compensation for breach of contract where penalty stipulated for - When a contract has been broken, if a sum is named in the contract as the amount to be paid in case of such breach, or if the contract contains any other stipulation by way of penalty, the party complaining of the breach is entitled, whether or not actual damage or loss is proved to have been caused thereby, to receive from the party who has broken the contract reasonable compensation not exceeding the amount so named or, as the case may be, the penalty stipulated for. 
Explanation.- A stipulation for increased interest from the date of default may be a stipulation by way of penalty.
Exception.- When any person enters into any bail-bond, recognizance or other instrument of the same nature, or, under the provisions of any law, or under the orders of the Central Government or of any State Government, gives any bond for the performance of any public duty or act in which the public are interested, he shall be liable, upon breach of the condition of any such instrument, to pay the whole sum mentioned therein. Explanation. - A person who enters into a contract with Government does not necessarily thereby undertake any public duty, or promise to do an act in which the public are interested.
 12. The above provisions enact principles upon which damages are to be awarded by the Courts in India for breach of contracts. There are obvious differences between the two provisions. Section 73 outlines the general principles for the award of damages, which is the difference between the price or cost of the goods or services contracted for as on the date of breach, which the injured party would be entitled to. In such an instance, the injured party would have to prove the breach (of contract); the value, cost or price of the goods or services contracted for on the date of breach and the measures taken by it towards mitigation of damages. Section 74, on the other hand, dispenses with the requirement of proving actual damage once breach of contract is established, the Court is enabled to award the “reasonable compensation” not exceeding the amount specified in the contract or the amounts which can be arrived at on application of the formulae or method prescribed in the contract.
13. The Supreme Court, in Fateh Chand v. Bal Kishan Das AIR 1963 SC 1405 called Section 74 as the provision cutting through the maze of rules evolved by English Courts over a period of time to distinguish between what is considered a genuine pre-determination of damages and what is penalty and, therefore, not enforceable. The Court held as follows: -

“10. Section 74 of the Indian Contract Act deals with the measure of damages in two classes of cases (i) where the contract names a sum to be paid in case of breach and (ii) where the contract contains any other stipulation by way of penalty. We are in the present case not concerned to decide whether a contract containing a covenant of forfeiture of deposit for due performance of a contract falls within the first class. The measure of damages in the case of breach of a stipulation by way of penalty is by Section 74 reasonable compensation not exceeding the penalty stipulated for. In assessing damages the Court has, subject to the limit of the penalty stipulated, jurisdiction to award such compensation as it deems reasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case. Jurisdiction of the Court to award compensation in case of breach of contract is unqualified except as to the maximum stipulated; but compensation has to be reasonable, and that imposes upon the Court duty to award compensation according to settled principles. The section undoubtedly says that the aggrieved party is entitled to receive compensation from the party who has broken the contract, whether or not actual damage or loss is proved to have been caused by the breach. Thereby it merely dispenses with proof of “actual loss or damage”; it does not justify the award of compensation when in consequence of the breach no legal injury at all has resulted, because compensation for breach of contract can be awarded to make good loss or damage which naturally arose in the usual course of things, or which the parties knew when they made the contract, to be likely to result from the breach.
15. Section 74 declares the law as to liability upon breach of contract where compensation is by agreement of the parties pre-determined, or where there is a stipulation by way of penalty. But the application of the enactment is not restricted to cases where the aggrieved party claims relief as a plaintiff. The section does not confer a special benefit upon any party; it merely declares the law that notwithstanding any term in the contract predetermining damages or providing for forfeiture of any property by way of penalty, the court will award to the party aggrieved only reasonable compensation not exceeding the amount named or penalty stipulated. The jurisdiction of the court is not determined by the accidental circumstance of the party in default being a plaintiff or a defendant in a suit. Use of the expression “to receive from the party who has broken the contract” does not predicate that the jurisdiction of the court to adjust amounts which have been paid by the party in default cannot be exercised in dealing with the claim of the party complaining of breach of contract. The court has to adjudge in every case reasonable compensation to which the plaintiff is entitled from the defendant on breach of the contract. Such compensation has to be ascertained having regard to the conditions existing on the date of the breach.
16. There is no evidence that any loss was suffered by the plaintiff in consequence of the default by the defendant, save as to the loss suffered by him by being kept out of possession of the property. There is no evidence that the property had depreciated in value since the date of the contract provided; nor was there evidence that any other special damage had resulted. The contact provided for forfeiture of Rs 25,000 consisting of Rs, 1039 paid as earnest money and Rs 24,000 paid as part of the purchase price. The defendant has conceded that the plaintiff was entitled to forfeit the amount of Rs 1000 which was paid as earnest money. We cannot however agree with the High Court that 13 percent of the price may be regarded as reasonable compensation in relation to the value of the contract as a whole, as that in our opinion is assessed on an arbitrary assumption. The plaintiff failed to prove the loss suffered by him in consequence of the breach of the contract committed by the defendant and we are unable to find any principle on which compensation equal to ten percent of the agreed price could be awarded to the plaintiff. The plaintiff has been allowed Rs 1000 which was the earnest money as part of the damages. Besides he had use of the remaining sum of Rs 24,000, and we can rightly presume that he must have been deriving advantage from that amount throughout this period. In the absence therefore of any proof of damage arising from the breach of the contract, we are of opinion that the amount of Rs 1000 (earnest money) which has been forfeited, and the advantage that the plaintiff must have derived from the possession of the remaining sum of Rs 24,000 during all this period would be sufficient compensation to him. It may be added that the plaintiff has separately claimed mesne profits for being kept out possession for which he has got a decree and therefore the fact that the plaintiff was out of possession cannot be taken, into account in determining damages for this purpose. The decree passed by the High Court awarding Rs 11,250 as damages to the plaintiff must therefore be set aside.”
14. In Maula Bux v. Union of India AIR 1970 SC 1955, the Supreme Court repelled the contention that quantified amounts spelt out in a contract for supply of potatoes to the Central Government, were, in the circumstances of the case, genuine pre-determination of what the damages were likely to be and held that such conditions were unenforceable penalties. The Court also noticed that that the Central Government did not make any effort to establish the quantum of damage suffered by it. It approved the previous ruling in Fateh Chand and applied the ratio, holding that:

“Counsel for the Union, however, urged that in the present case Rs 10,000 in respect of the potato contract and Rs 8500 in respect of the poultry contract were genuine pre-estimates of damages which the Union was likely to suffer as a result of breach of contract, and the plaintiff was not entitled to any relief against forfeiture. Reliance in support of this contention was placed upon the expression (used in Section 74 of the Contract Act), “the party complaining of the breach is entitled, whether or not actual damage or loss is proved to have been caused thereby, to receive from the party who has broken the contract reasonable compensation”. It is true that in every case of breach of contract the person aggrieved by the breach is not required to prove actual loss or damage suffered by him before he can claim a decree, and the Court is competent to award reasonable compensation in case of breach even if no actual damage is proved to have been suffered in consequence of the breach of contract. But the expression “whether or not actual damage or loss is proved to have been caused thereby” is intended to cover different classes of contracts which come before the Courts. In case of breach of some contracts it may be impossible for the Court to assess compensation arising from breach, while in other cases compensation can be calculated in accordance with established rules. Where the Court is unable to assess the compensation, the sum named by the parties if it be regarded as a genuine pre-estimate may be taken into consideration as the measure of reasonable compensation, but not if the sum named is in the nature of a penalty. Where loss in terms of money can be determined, the party claiming compensation must prove the loss suffered by him...”
Similarly, in M.L. Devendra Singh v. Syed Khaja 1973 (2) SCC 515 (affirmed in P. D'Souza v. Shondrilo Naidu,(2004) 6 SCC 649) the Court accepted the same approach and further emphasized that mere stipulation of some amount would only be a piece of evidence, but inconclusive by its very nature:

"20. The fact that the parties themselves have provided a sum to be paid by the party breaking the contract does not, by itself, remove the strong presumption contemplated by the use of the words „unless and until the contrary is proved‟. The sufficiency or insufficiency of any evidence to remove such a presumption is a matter of evidence. The fact that the parties themselves specified a sum of money to be paid in the event of its breach is, no doubt, a piece of evidence to be considered in deciding whether the presumption has been repelled or not. But, in our opinion, it is nothing more than a piece of evidence. It is not conclusive or decisive.”
In Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd v. Saw Pipes Ltd. AIR 2003 SC 2629, the Court summarized the legal position as follows:

“68. From the aforesaid discussions, it can be held that:

(1) Terms of the contract are required to be taken into consideration before arriving at the conclusion whether the party claiming damages is entitled to the same.
(2) If the terms are clear and unambiguous stipulating the liquidated damages in case of the breach of the contract unless it is held that such estimate of damages/compensation is unreasonable or is by way of penalty, party who has committed the breach is required to pay such compensation and that is what is provided in Section 73 of the Contract Act.
(3) Section 74 is to be read along with Section 73 and, therefore, in every case of breach of contract, the person aggrieved by the breach is not required to prove actual loss or damage suffered by him before he can claim a decree. The court is competent to award reasonable compensation in case of breach even if no actual damage is proved to have been suffered in consequence of the breach of a contract.
(4) In some contracts, it would be impossible for the court to assess the compensation arising from breach and if the compensation contemplated is not by way of penalty or unreasonable, the court can award the same if it is genuine preestimate by the parties as the measure of reasonable compensation.” 
15. A penal clause in an agreement has been characterized as a stipulation “in terrorem” which the courts would refuse to recognize, or give effect to. This necessarily implies that the amount, or formulae (or formula) of damages far exceeds what can be “reasonable compensation” in the given facts of the case. Of course, the Court would not, unless it is convinced that such condition far exceeds the genuine estimate of reasonable damages, interdict with the condition, which the parties have agreed to include in the contract.

6 comments:

Paldron Tenzin said...

This is Paldron here from National Law School of India University,
Bangalore. While researching for my Contracts paper, I came across your
article regarding the position of law in India with respect to liquidated damages and the Indian Contract Act. Sir, my research paper is based on the case cited in your esteemed article, i.e. ONGC Ltd v. SAW Pipes Ltd.
Sir, I would be extremely grateful if you could guide me by sharing your insights about the same. Specifically, dealing with the current relevance of the case and the position of law.

Thanking You.

Paldron :)

Paldron Tenzin said...

Thank you so much Sir. Sir, my doubt is in relation to what the current position of law with regard to liquidated damages is? This is with respect to the recent cases.

Tarun Jain said...

The case law covered in this article reflects the latest position of law on the issue. In fact there has been no major change in the issue.

rohit said...

Dear Sir,

Can you clarify on this- what happens in the case when there is a liquidated damages clause in a contract covering four parties and the clause provides that liquidated damages shall be apayable by all four of them in case any of them defaults irrespective of the fact that the other 3 have completed their scope of work and the fourth one messes up? is it a valid liquidated damages clause?

luvcandle said...

Dear Sir,

We had signed a contract with a PSU for supply of material. The material was supplied beyond the contractual delivery date. As per the contract, the customer deducted penalty of 5% of the contract value.
Now, it is known fact that customer has not commissioned the product. It is still lying in their stores, which proves that they have not suffered any losses on account of delay in delivery.
Does our law allow us to claim back the deduction made in the payment received from PSU (Customer)?
Please advise,

Hemant Arora said...

Hi
This Is Hemant. I filled one petition in Jaipur high court for claiming that the RFC does not have automatic right to charge the liquidated damages even if it is written in the agreement.

i shall highly be obliged in case if some one puts lights on the following.

I had been charged, Simple Intereset then compund Interest, Then Penal interest then compounding of penal interest and then Interest on Interest of Penal interest.

I am fighting for Penal interest and interest on penal interest.

Please comment