Chaplin v Hicks

Chaplin v Hicks [1911]: A Case Summary

Chaplin v Hicks [1911] is a UK contract law case concerning the assessment of damages. It dealt with the issue of an actress losing her chance of getting selected at a competition.

Below are the case details:

Case name & citation:Chaplin v Hicks [1911] 2 KB 786 (CA)
Court and jurisdiction:Court of Appeal, England and Wales
Decided on:16 May 1911
The bench of judges:Vaughan Williams, Fletcher Moulton and Farwell L.JJ.
Area of law:Remedies for breach of contract; assessment of damages

Facts of the case

Hicks, a theatrical manager, posted an advertisement in a London daily newspaper asking young women who aspired to be actors to give him their photographs and information. From those applicants, he would choose twenty-four photographs and feature them in the newspaper. The readers of the newspaper would then select twelve winners, and Hicks would offer them three-year professional commitments at salaries ranging from £3 to £5 per week. After receiving an overwhelming response of 6,000 photographs, Hicks modified the rules: the public would now choose the fifty most beautiful girls by giving their votes, from whom he would personally select the final twelve. Miss Chaplin was one of the fifty finalists. 

On January 5, she was informed that she would be required to attend an interview in London on January 6. Since Miss Chaplin was in Dundee at the time, she was unable to keep this appointment and Hicks refused to provide her with another one. Hence, she was not among the twelve selected and decided to sue Hicks for her lost opportunity of gaining employment.

The jury decided in favor of Miss Chaplin and determined that Hicks had failed to provide her with a reasonable opportunity to present herself and awarded her £100 in damages.

Hicks appealed against this. He did not contend that there was no breach of contract, but rather that the damages should have been nominal, either because they were too remote and speculative in nature or because they were incapable of assessment.

Judgment of the Court in Chaplin v Hicks

The appeal was rejected. The Court of Appeal determined that the damages were neither too remote nor unassessable.

The claimant had the right to seek compensation for the opportunity she lost in obtaining employment. It was not necessary for her to demonstrate that she would have been successful in the interview process.

Quote from the case

Fletcher Moulton L.J. stated as under:

“It is said that the damages cannot be arrived at because it is impossible to estimate the quantum of the reasonable probability of the plaintiff’s being a prize-winner. I think that, where it is clear that there has been actual loss resulting from the breach of contract, which it is difficult to estimate in money, it is for the jury to do their best to estimate; it is not necessary that there should be an absolute measure of damages in each case.”

Vaughan Williams L.J. said:

“But the fact that damages cannot be assessed with certainty does not relieve the wrong-doer of the necessity of paying damages for his breach of contract.”

List of references:

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