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Chaplin v Hicks [1911] 2 KB 786

Breach of contract; loss of a chance to win competition; measure of damages

Facts

Hicks was a famous actor and theatre manager. He invited women to enter a beauty contest by sending in photographs which would be placed in a newspaper. The readers of the newspaper would vote for their winner, who would be awarded a paid engagement as her prize. Chaplin entered the competition and came first in her group thereby affording her the opportunity to be considered as a finalist. The letter inviting her to attend the next stage of the contest arrived too late, and as a result she was denied the opportunity to be considered. She sought damages.

Issues

Chaplin contended that Hicks’ failure to take reasonable steps to bring the next stage to her attention amounted to a breach of contract. This breach, she argued, had resulted in a lost opportunity for her to attain lucrative engagements and she was, therefore, entitled to damages to compensate her for this loss. Hicks argued that even if there had been a breach of contract, any damages awarded should be nominal because any harm Chaplin had suffered would be too remote from the breach and incalculable. It would not be possible to assess the chances of Chaplin winning the competition and her losses, if any, were incapable of assessment.

Held

Chaplin successfully recovered 100k in damages. Under the contract, she had the right to be considered within a limited class. Hicks’ breach of contract meant she could no longer be so considered. The loss of the chance of winning such a lucrative prize was a breach which afforded her the right to substantial, and not merely nominal damages. Such damages were not necessarily incapable of assessment.


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