Hadley v. Baxendale and Other Common Law Borrowings from the Civil Law

27 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2013

See all articles by Wayne Barnes

Wayne Barnes

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: 2004


In 1854, the English Exchequer Court delivered the landmark case of Hadley v. Baxendale. That case provided, for the first time in the common law, a defined rule regarding the limitations on recovery of damages for breach of contract. It has been widely celebrated as a landmark in the law of contracts, and more widely as a triumph of the common law system. A little over a decade after it was decided, it had already become highly regarded, for Chief Baron Pollock stated in 1866: “[A] more extensive and accurate knowledge of decisions in our law books, and a more accurate power of analyzing and discussing them, and...a larger acquaintance with the exigencies of commerce and the business of life, never combined to assist at the formation of any decision.” White & Summers state that knowledge of the case “has become a sine qua non to second-year standing in law school.” Richard Danzig notes the “pedagogical centrality” of the case, and its characterization as a “judicial invention.” Corbin has claimed that Hadley is “more often cited as authority than any other case in the law of damages.” Perhaps most famously of all, Grant Gilmore stated that “Hadley v. Baxendale is still, and presumably always will be, a fixed star in the jurisprudential firmament.” This article explores whether this recognition is fully deserved, as the civil law was most assuredly referenced for the Hadley rule. As it turns out such legal transplants are extraordinarily common, and there are many other instances in which Anglo-American courts have borrowed from the civil law for purposes of “creating” new common law doctrine. Seen in that light, the genius of the “common law” Hadley rule takes on additional depth and perspective.

Suggested Citation

Barnes, Wayne, Hadley v. Baxendale and Other Common Law Borrowings from the Civil Law (2004). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2330620 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2330620

Wayne Barnes (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102

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