Classifying precontractual liability: A comparative analysis

Joachim Dietrich*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The common law has solved questions of liability arising in the context of precontractual negotiations by resort to a range of different doctrines and approaches, adopting in effect‘piecemeal’solutions to questions of precontractual liability. Consequently, debate has arisen as to how best to classify or categorise claims for precontractual work and as to which doctrines are best suited to solving problems arising from anticipated contracts. The purpose of this article is to consider this question of how best to classify (cases of) precontractual liability. The initial focus will be on the ongoing debate as to whether principles of contract law or principles of unjust enrichment can better solve problems of precontractual liability. I will be suggesting that unjust enrichment theory offers little by way of explanation of cases of precontractual liability and, indeed, draws on principles of contract law in determining questions of liability for precontractual services rendered, though it does so by formulating those principles under different guises. Irrespective, however, of the doctrines utilised by the common law to impose liability, it is possible to identify a number of common elements unifying all cases of precontractual liability. In identifying such common elements of liability, it is necessary to draw on principles of both contract and tort law. How, then, should cases of precontractual liability best be classified? A consideration of the issue of classification of precontractual liability from a perspective of German civil law will demonstrate that a better understanding of cases of precontractual liability will be gained by classifying such cases as lying between the existing categories of contract and tort.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-191
Number of pages39
JournalLegal Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2001
Externally publishedYes


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