Limitation of Liability clause in an agreement
Let us do an exercise. You may not have bothered so far, so you could do it today.
Have a look at the backside of your Drycleaner’s slip for the garments you have given him for laundry or dry cleaning. If you do not find such slip, try reading some other service provider’s slip.
Such slips have some terms and conditions written in very small font size. One of these terms in alia, is to the effect that “The service provider’s liability in any eventuality shall not exceed ____________ (a particular amount).”
If you give you 2-piece Armani suit (which cost you half a million Rupees) for dry cleaning, the dry cleaner charges you a small sum, say Rupees 1,000 or 2,000 for its services. What if the suit were to be damaged during the process? As a customer, you may like full compensation for the loss or replacement of your suit. However, such a commitment does not make commercial sense for the dry cleaner. So what your drycleaner does, it tries to limits its liability for any mishappening by providing a limit on its liability.
As we have discussed at various places, parties have rights and obligations under the agreement. They are required to perform their respective sets of responsibilities according to pre-agreed terms and conditions, norms, time-frames, etc.
Invariably, one or more parties are required under certain circumstances to
compensate the other(s) for any failure, non-performance, breach, delay
and other specified reasons.
A limitation of liability clause stipulates that a party will be obligated to pay
to the other in such an event under the terms of an agreement. This clause
limits the amount as well as the types of damages a party can recover from
This is an efficient way to cap the liability amount undertaken by a party
(usually the service provider). Invariably, this exposure is capped at the fees
paid to the service provider under the agreement or another small amount
which may be more or less than the fees. This way, among other things,:
(i) the party limiting its liability can gauge the extent of its potential
exposure under a particular agreement;
(ii) its auditors can also predict the maximum exposure and contingent
(iii) the party can take adequate insurance cover to take care of any
This clause is more prevalent in service agreements and normally favours
the service provider who wants to limit its exposure.
The reason and rationale for such a clause is to protect the service provider
from undertaking risk which may not be commensurate with the small fee
that it may be charging for doing a particular assignment or handling an
equipment or thing (as cited in the dry cleaner’s example above).
The service provider’s profit margin on projects or assignments in many
cases may support taking unlimited risk in respect thereof. Even insurance
covers come with several riders and disqualifications and even insurers insist
on limitation of liability clauses in agreements.
Usually, the party drafting the agreement has an upper hand in this regard.
It incorporates limitation of liability clause in its favour to limit its exposure
from the first draft itself.
However, the enforceability of limitation of liability clauses is not absolute
(particularly in cases involving gross and deliberate negligence on part of the
service provider) and depends on merits of each case.
Here are some examples:
1. The Distributor shall have no liability to compensate the Company for any
claim pressed by the latter under this Agreement except as expressly
provided under this Agreement.
2. The Agent shall not be liable or responsible for any action taken or
omitted by him in pursuance of this Agreement in good faith, except for
gross negligence, bad faith or wilful misconduct adjudicated by a court of
3. The aggregate liability of the Agent towards the Principal in respect of any
losses, costs claimed by the Client in relation to this Agreement shall not
exceed the fees received to the Agent provided that any such claim is made
not later than within 15 (fifteen) days of termination of this Agreement.
4. The aggregate liability of the Service Provider and its directors, officers,
employees, agents, sub-contractors in respect of any claims, losses, costs or
damages arising out of or related to this Agreement shall not exceed the
fees received by the Service Provider under this Agreement or Rs. 25,000
(Rupees twenty five thousand) only, whichever is greater. Further, any such
claim(s) must be made during the engagement period of the Service
Provider or within 3 (three) months of the termination or expiry of this
Agreement, as the case may be. The Service Provider’s obligation shall also
be restricted only to actual and direct losses and not to any indirect, special
or consequential losses. The Service Provider shall not be subjected to any
punitive or exemplary damages.
5. The aggregate liability of the Service Provider in respect of any claims,
losses, costs or damages arising out of or related to this Agreement shall not
exceed the fees received by the Service Provider under this Agreement or
Rs. 25,000 (Rupees twenty five thousand) only, whichever is less. The Client
shall be entitled to press only those claims in respect of which a loss or
damage exceeds Rs. 5,000. The Client shall first make efforts to recover such
losses through insurance. Any amount paid by the insurance company of the
Client shall also be deducted from any claim pressed by the Client.
6. No Party shall have any liability towards each other under this Agreement,
except in the case of a material breach. Even in the case of a material
breach, a Party shall only be liable to make good any actual and direct
losses. The breaching party shall not bear any indirect, special or
consequential losses nor be subjected to any punitive or exemplary
Bhumesh Verma is a lawyer with over 2 decades of experience in advising domestic and international clients on corporate transactions (M&A, Venture Capital, Private Equity, Startups, corporate advisory, etc.) and features in "The A-List - India's Top 100 Lawyers" by India Business Law Journal. He keeps writing frequently on FDI, M&A and other corporate matters and is a guest faculty as well. He can be reached at email@example.com.