Exclusion clauses and unfair terms
Pannone Corporate

Exclusion clauses are among the most important clauses within commercial contracts. When a dispute arises, the parties may first turn to the exclusion clauses to assess their respective exposure or any protections from liability.

Exclusion clauses are contractual terms which can either exclude or restrict a party’s exposure to a legal obligation or liability. For instance, exclusion clauses could protect a contracting party from:

  • Liability for defects in goods: e.g. “The seller shall not be liable for any defects in the goods after they have been delivered and accepted by the buyer”.
  • Liability for non-performance due to specified events: e.g. “The agency shall not be liable for any failure to provide services due to government actions”.
  • Liability for the loss of data: e.g. “The service provider shall not be liable for any loss or corruption of data stored on its servers”.

Why are exclusion clauses useful?

Exclusion clauses are useful because they provide a mechanism for parties to manage and allocate risk. They provide predictability and clarity regarding liability and risk management.

By incorporating exclusion clauses into a contract, parties can allocate risk in a manner which is suitable to them. This could involve an equitable sharing of risk or an allocation of risk that reflects the contractual realties of the parties and their respective ability to manage contractual risks.

Controls on Exclusion Clauses:

To be considered enforceable, exclusion clauses must meet certain legal requirements. These requirements are intended to promote fairness and are based on both common law principles and statutory regulations. They are as follows:

  1. Incorporation: An exclusion clause can be successfully incorporated into a contract through signature, notice or a consistent course of dealing.

  1. Construction: There are two main principles the courts will consider:

  • Main Purpose: If an exclusion clause defeats the main purpose of the contract, it may be rendered ineffective. This ensures that exclusion clauses cannot completely undermine the fundamental obligations of the contract.

  • Ambiguity: Any ambiguity in the clause will be construed against the party relying on it. This ensures that the party seeking to exclude liability must do so in clear terms.

  1. Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977: UCTA applies a reasonableness test to exclusion clauses, particularly in consumer contracts and those involving liability for negligence. This legislation seeks to ensure that exclusion clauses are fair and reasonable in the context of the contract.

Implications for Businesses: Drafting and Allocation of Risk Strategies

While exclusion clauses are a powerful tool that allow parties to limit their exposure to risk when engaging in contractual undertakings, it is advisable that lawyers are engaged at the drafting stage to ensure that the term a party seeks to rely upon does not become void if disputed in court.

Key considerations include:

  • Clarity and Precision: Draft exclusion clauses in clear and unambiguous terms.
  • Enforcement: Ensure that the clause complies with applicable laws and regulations, such as the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977.

  • Negotiation: Clearly express intentions in the contract and ensure that all parties understand the terms to which they have agreed. This is especially important in “battle of the forms” scenarios, where conflicting standard terms and conditions may exist.

Further Considerations for Effective Risk Management

  • Scenario Planning: To test the effectiveness of exclusion clauses, apply them to a variety of hypothetical scenarios. For example, simulate a data breach incident to determine whether the clause adequately limits liability.

  • Integration with insurance policies: Insurance combined with exclusion clauses can improve risk management and provide additional protection for businesses. For example, businesses can use insurance policies to cover risks that are not covered by the contract. Exclusion clauses, on the other hand, can be used to close any gaps in risk coverage if an insurance policy excludes certain types of damages. By strategically combining insurance and exclusion clauses, businesses can fortify their risk management strategies and safeguard against unforeseen liabilities.


Exclusion clauses are critical for effective risk management in contracts. Their enforceability and effectiveness depend on clear and precise drafting, legal expertise, and thorough negotiation. By employing the strategies discussed in this article, businesses can better navigate contractual relationships, allocate risks appropriately, and safeguard their interests in a dynamic and evolving marketplace.

What’s next…

Our next blog post in this series will examine the issues to consider and pitfalls which can arise when terminating contracts.

If you would like to discuss this blog, please contact Paul Jonson on 07737 571147 or by email to paul.jonson@pannonecorporate.com.

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