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What is a Loss of Opportunity in Contractual Law?

One of the leading cases in loss of opportunity litigation in Australia is the case of Sellars v Adelaide Petroleum NL (1994) 179 CLR 332. This landmark decision by the High Court of Australia established important principles regarding the assessment and calculation of damages for loss of opportunity.


In Sellars, the plaintiff was a shareholder who alleged that he had suffered a loss due to being deprived of an opportunity to sell his shares at a higher price. The court recognized that there was a real chance or possibility that the plaintiff would have sold his shares at a more favourable price if not for the defendant's misleading conduct.


The High Court held that when assessing damages for loss of opportunity, it is necessary to consider both subjective and objective factors. Subjective factors include evidence relating to what the plaintiff would have done if not for the defendant's actions, while objective factors involve evaluating market conditions and other relevant circumstances.

The court emphasized that damages should be assessed on a "balance-of-probabilities" basis rather than requiring absolute certainty. It acknowledged that in some cases, it may be difficult or impossible to precisely quantify what might have happened if an opportunity had not been lost. However, this should not preclude compensation altogether.


Sellars v Adelaide Petroleum NL clarified several important principles related to loss-of-opportunity claims in Australia. It highlighted that plaintiffs must establish both causation (that they were deprived of an actual chance) and quantification (the value or likelihood associated with that chance). The case also emphasized flexibility in assessing damages based on available evidence rather than demanding absolute certainty.


While Sellars v Adelaide Petroleum NL is considered one of the leading cases on loss-of-opportunity litigation in Australia, it is worth noting that there are other significant cases addressing this issue as well. Each case will be evaluated based on its unique facts and circumstances, with courts considering various legal principles established through precedent when determining appropriate compensation for lost opportunities.


This can be a feature in employment disputes or human rights matters.

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