Difference between revisions of "Template:Indemnity description"

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=====An {{tag|indemnity}} is ''not'' (necessarily) of indeterminate scope=====
 
=====An {{tag|indemnity}} is ''not'' (necessarily) of indeterminate scope=====
Nor is a (well-crafted) {{tag|indemnity}} broader or of less determinate scope than any other contractual claim. A good one should have a predictable and reasonable financial consequence: It might be to reimburse taxes or similar unavoidable expenses a merchant incurs in performing the contract, that it would not, but for that contract. The [[Chicken Licken|sky should not fall in]] under the weight of a well-proportioned {{tag|indemnity}}.  
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Nor is a (well-crafted) {{tag|indemnity}} broader or of lesso i have a blogs determinate scope than any other contractual claim. A good one should have a predictable and reasonable financial consequence: It might be to reimburse taxes or similar unavoidable expenses a merchant incurs in performing the contract, that it would not, but for that contract. The [[Chicken Licken|sky should not fall in]] under the weight of a well-proportioned {{tag|indemnity}}.  
  
It is a precision tool to allocate responsibility for a narrow risk, not a weapon of mass destruction.
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It is a precision tool to allocate responsibility for a narrow risk, not a [[Weapons of financial mass destruction|weapon of mass destruction]].
  
 
===You keep saying “[[well-crafted indemnity|''well-crafted'' indemnity]]”===
 
===You keep saying “[[well-crafted indemnity|''well-crafted'' indemnity]]”===

Latest revision as of 09:35, 11 October 2019

What an indemnity is

“Why the excitement,” you might ask, “for isn’t an indemnity simply a promise to pay a defined sum should pre-agreed circumstances arise?” Quite so, if used as the Lords[1] intended. For an indemnity is a sensible way — perhaps the only way — to allocate the third-party risks two merchants might encounter when faithfully providing one another goods and services.

Now the common law already has a sophisticated means for allocating losses between the parties to a commercial bargain. It is called the law of contract. Contracts are simple things: each party has something the other wants; by contract, they memorialise the willing exchange. Should either side not keep to the bargain, the other may sue.

Contractual damages are limited only by the depraved imagination of your lawyer: loss of bargain, loss of opportunity, consequential loss, taxes, reputational damage, restitution, hedge-breakage costs, emotional distress, nervous shock, (needless to say, but inevitably said) legal costs and, if that is not enough, exemplary damages to punish your contumelious disregard for your opponent’s commercial expectations. Nebulous as they are, such allegations at least require evidence, and the law has developed techniques — causation and remoteness of damage — to limit unnecessary excess.

Now any economist will tell you there can be undesirable consequences of commercial activity, that neither party wants, nor can avoid, even if each keeps faithfully to the bargain. For these “externalities” we have indemnities. They allocate these risks away from the person on whom they would naturally fall. One should therefore approach the request for an indemnity, with caution. Your first question should always be “why”: Why shouldn't this loss fall on the fellow who would ordinarily bear it?

If it would, and it should, you don’t need an indemnity.

If it would but it shouldn’t, consider how well you can articulate the risk and likely loss? If you can describe it with minute precision, all well and good: your counterparty might be minded to accept: if you have no more than a faintly discomfiting sense that the sky might fall on your head when performing the contract, and you want to be indemnified for that, expect a stouter challenge.

What a (well-crafted) indemnity is not

An indemnity is not “better” than a contract

An indemnity is no better than a contractual claim. It is a contractual claim. It does not have a harsher accounting impact. Its capital treatment is the same. You enforce it as you would a breach of contract: by suing the indemnifier for its failure to pay the indemnified amount.

Now. Since (if well crafted) it is a claim to pay a pre-defined (or at any rate deterministic) sum, proving your claim is not hard: prove you have the contract, prove you’ve suffered the loss and—that’s it. A well-crafted indemnity is therefore apt for summary judgment[2]. But careful, counsel: aptness for summary judgment is not a magic property of all indemnities: it depends on how well you have crafted yours.

An indemnity does not require a breach of contract. In fact they should be mutually exclusive

While failing to honour an indemnity claim is a breach of contract, the circumstances giving rise to an indemnity claim in the first place are not. No breach is required, no causation or value judgment needed to satisfy the indemnifier of your bona fides. Recovering for failure to honour a (well-crafted) indemnity is therefore straightforward: You must show the event giving rise to the indemnity has happened, that you have demanded the indemnified sum from indemnifier; and that the indemnifier has not paid it. Hence: summary judgment.

Note, also, that summary judgment is available for certain contractual breaches: Specifically, failures to pay a specified sum, where the obligation to pay can be proved by contract, and the failure to pay can be proven by affidavit. No real question of witness credibility arises.

An indemnity is not (necessarily) of indeterminate scope

Nor is a (well-crafted) indemnity broader or of lesso i have a blogs determinate scope than any other contractual claim. A good one should have a predictable and reasonable financial consequence: It might be to reimburse taxes or similar unavoidable expenses a merchant incurs in performing the contract, that it would not, but for that contract. The sky should not fall in under the weight of a well-proportioned indemnity.

It is a precision tool to allocate responsibility for a narrow risk, not a weapon of mass destruction.

You keep saying “well-crafted indemnity

Yes, I do. This is where things have gone awry. Many latter-day indemnities are not well-crafted at all. Often they try to catch every contingency under the sun: “any and all losses, costs and damages, howsoever arising, incurred or suffered in diligent performance of the contract”. Magnanimous ones might let the indemnifying party off those losses caused by the indemnified party’s negligence, fraud or wilful default, but that’s another story.

In any case, such a wide indemnity suggests your counterparty has not grasped the fundamentals of the commercial bargain: Indemnities are not meant for the ordinary costs of one’s performance of a contract. That is called consideration. It is why the other fellow is making a bargain with you in the first place. You’re meant to just pay that, and be grateful.

What are fit topics for an indemnity then?

Indemnities capture unexpected and unwanted possibilities brought about by performance of the contract which ought not to arise, whose provenance is beyond the indemnified party’s control, but which do.

There are two flavours of these:

  • Retrospective tax events: Events that arise from the perfidy of higher powers: changes in law, retrospective taxes, and unbudgeted cost blowouts which are levied on the indemnified party as a direct result of performing the contract, which it could not reasonably have anticipated or avoided, and which the commercial equity of the situation supports allocating other than where they would naturally fall. In this correspondent’s opinion, that is limited really to retrospectively imposed taxes. Allocation of other un-budgeted costs can be resolved by re-negotiation or termination.
  • Losses caused by the indemnifier’s misbehaviour to a third party: Events that arise though the mendacity — though not actual breach of contract — of the indemnifier. These arise where the indemnifier has given a third party an interest that, unbeknownst to indemnified party, its honest performance of the contract somehow abrogates. These a reasonable indemnifier should not resist, seeing as they are within its gift to prevent.

Liability under an indemnity

Since it isn't necessarily triggered by a breach of contract, nor is the value of indemnity constrained by ordinary contract law principles for damages. (That is not to say you don't have to prove loss, though: beware indemnities that look like penalty clauses.)

Now we have already established that you want to reallocate this risk away from the party who would naturally bear it. That person will ask itself, as should you, could my agreeing to this indemnity, in the immortal words of Cardozo J in Ultramares Corporation v. Touche open the floodgates leading to "liability in an indeterminate amount for an indeterminate time to an indeterminate class"?

Actually a little side bar here: The more open-ended the wording of your indemnity, the more prone the courts are to restrict its extent along the lines of ordinary contractual principals of remoteness of damage - see Total Transport Corporation v Arcadia Petroleum Ltd (The Eurus) Good note that from Olswang, by the way. There, the Court of Appeal held that an obligation to pay "any time, costs, delays or loss" caused by a party's breach only covered losses flowing directly from the breach or that were in the contemplation of the parties when they made the contract.

Indemnities and Guarantees

An indemnity is nonetheless a useful back-up to a guarantee because:

  • House of Lords, that is.
  • summary judgment is a speedy civil court process where you have have a court award your claim without out all that messy and unpleasant business mucking around calling witnesses and so on.