Foreseeability asks how likely it was that a person could have anticipated the potential or actual results of their actions. This is a question in contract and tort law. The standard that courts use is that of “reasonability.” In contract law, reasonability asks if the harms resulting from a breach were a natural result of that breach. In tort law, the “reasonable person” standard asks if an ordinary person in that same circumstance would have reasonably acted in the same way.
In breach of contract cases, courts measure foreseeability from the time a contract was made, not the time of the breach. To determine foreseeability, courts consider if damages were a direct and obvious result of the breach (general damages). Courts also look to the parties’ understanding when making the contract, as they might have reasonably contemplated what damages should be owed in the event of a breach. Further, counts consider if a person had adequate knowledge about the specifics of their situation, that they could have foreseen the probability of damages.
In tort negligence lawsuits, foreseeability asks whether a person could or should reasonably have foreseen the harms that resulted from their actions. If resulting harms were not foreseeable, a defendant might successfully prove that they were not liable. However, even if a defendant could not have foreseen the scale of the resulting harm, they might still be found liable if a harm of that type was foreseeable.
[Last updated in August of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]