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Blackburn Bobbin Co Ltd v Allen (TW) & Sons Ltd [1918] 1 KB 540

CONTRACT, SALE OF GOODS, IMPOSSIBILITY OF PERFORMANCE, OUTBREAK OF WAR, NON-PERFORMANCE, DISCHARGE, DISSOLUTION OF A CONTRACT, FORCE MAJEURE

Facts

The defendants sold to the plaintiffs timber to be imported from Finland through a contract, made in early 1914. The timber was to be delivered in Hull for free by rail in June-July 1914. The contract did not contain any clauses on war or force majeure. The practice before World War I was to load timber on vessels in Finland for direct sea carriage to England, but this practice was not known to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs also did not know that the timber merchants in England did not keep Finnish timber in stock. Up to the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the defendants had not delivered any of the timber. After this, it became impossible for the defendants to obtain any Finnish timber due to the chaos with the transport, caused by the war. The defendants contended that the contract was dissolved by the outbreak of the war.

Issue

Had the contract been dissolved by the outbreak of the war?

Held

The decision was in favour of the plaintiffs.

(1) A person expressly contracts absolutely to do a thing not naturally impossible, is not excused from non-performance because of being prevented by vis major, except in certain cases such as that of common carriers and bailees.

(2) Applying Jacobs,Marcus & Co. v. Crédit Lyonnais (1884) 12 QBD 589, the contract had not been dissolved by the outbreak of the war and the defendants were liable in damages for the non-delivery of the timber.

(3) The case was distinguished from Krell v Henry [1903] 2 KB 740 because if the rule in Krell v Henry [1903] 2 KB 740 had been extended to the present case, that would have created a rule the results of which no one could foresee.


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