In (Partial) Defense of Strict Liability in Contract
Many scholars believe that notions of fault should and do pervade contract doctrine. Notwithstanding the normative and positive arguments in favor of a fault-based analysis of particular contract doctrines, I argue that contract liability is strict liability at its core. This core regime is based on two key prongs: (1) the promisor is liable to the promisee for breach, and that liability is unaffected by the promisor’s exercise of due care or failure to take efficient precautions; and (2) the promisor’s liability is unaffected by the fact that the promisee, prior to the breach, has failed to take cost-effective precautions to reduce the consequences of nonperformance. I offer two complementary normative justifications for contract law’s stubborn resistance to consider fault in either of these instances. First, I argue that there are unappreciated ways in which courts’ adherence to strict liability doctrine at the core of contract reduces contracting costs. In addition, I argue that a strict liability core best supports parties’ efforts to access informal or relational modes of contracting, especially where key information is unverifiable.