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Agency by Necessity


Agency by Necessity is a concept in contract law whereby one party has the authority to create a legal relationship between a principal and third-party due to unforeseen or unplanned circumstances. This authority arises in emergency situations where the agent cannot get the principal’s permission in sufficient time. The law allows the agent to act on behalf of the principal to prevent loss or protect the principal’s interests.


/ˈeɪdʒənsi baɪ nɪˈsɛsɪti/

Key Takeaways

  1. Concept Understanding: Agency by Necessity is a common law principle that allows a person to act as an agent for someone else in times of emergency or dire need. This occurs when the person isn’t able to make critical decisions due to incapacity or absence, and immediate action must be taken to prevent loss or damage.
  2. Application: This legal principle is often applied in various situations such as business transactions, healthcare decisions or during a natural disaster. The intending agent must prove that the action was necessary and in the best interest of the principal to avoid any harm or loss.
  3. Limitations: While Agency by Necessity is a significant principle, it has restrictions. The agent cannot act beyond what is necessary, and the actions taken must be in line with what could be reasonably expected by the principal. Any act excessive to the situation or contrary to the principal’s interests may encounter legal dispute.


Agency by Necessity is an important concept in business and finance because it concerns the ability of an individual to make critical decisions or carry out specific actions on behalf of another individual or entity in cases of emergency or pressing need. This concept fosters flexibility in business operations and financial management, as it requires not the principal’s express permission, but rather arises from urgent or indispensable circumstances where the principal cannot act. Therefore, it plays a critical role in ensuring continuity of operations, risk management, and timely decision-making in situations where delay could result in significant loss or damage.


Agency by necessity plays a crucial role in business activities by facilitating actions in emergency situations. Essentially, it is a principle in commercial law that allows a person (the agent) to perform acts to preserve another person’s (the principal’s) property or assets during a crisis, particularly when the principal is incapable of giving consent or instructions at that moment. This is a significant aspect in a business relationship as it ensures continuity and minimizes losses when unexpected events occur.The very purpose of agency by necessity is to protect the principle’s best interests during unforeseen events or circumstances. For example, if a principal’s business operations are threatened due to sudden changes in legislation, the agent might need to act immediately to ensure compliance, even if the principal is unavailable to consent to the actions taken. To implement agency by necessity, three primary conditions must be met: there must be an actual necessity, the agent must have exhausted all possible solutions in reaching the principal, and the agent’s actions must reflect the principal’s best interests. These conditions help maintain trust and goodwill in business relationships, despite the absence of explicit authorization.


1. Emergency Healthcare Actions: A person might become unconscious due an accident or medical emergency. In this situation, a physician or medical practitioner who attends to them can decide on the necessary medical procedure to resuscitate or stabilize the patient. Even though this is without the patient’s explicit consent, it is implied in necessity. This is an example of agency by necessity where the doctor becomes an agent to act in the best interest of the patient.2. Shipping/Maritime Industry: In the shipping industry, if a ship’s cargo needs to be jettisoned or thrown overboard in order to save the ship and the remaining cargo due to an emergency, the shipmaster can do so acting as an agent by necessity. The captain has to make a critical decision to save the ship and people’s lives, and his action is justified by this principle.3. Real Estate Agency: In a situation where a property manager is charged with maintaining a property and an emergency repair is required to prevent further damage or loss of value to the property, the property manager may act as an agent by necessity. They can proceed with the necessary repairs or restoration work without getting explicit consent from the property owner in time, under the assumption that the owner would give consent, given the necessity of the action.In each of these cases, the principle of “Agency by Necessity” works, allowing the agent to make immediate decisions when there is no way to communicate with the principal or secure consent in time.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is Agency by Necessity?

Agency by Necessity is a legal principle where a person is given the power to act for another person or entity in an emergency situation when the latter is unable to act or instruct the agent.

Can you provide an example of Agency by Necessity?

For instance, if an individual is unconscious and requires immediate medical care, a bystander (who is not ordinarily authorized) can act as an agent to grant consent for necessary treatment.

How does Agency by Necessity function in business?

In business, Agency by Necessity might occur when a company’s director makes an unauthorized decision for the benefit of the company during an emergency where it is impossible to communicate with other decision-makers in time.

Is the agent in Agency by Necessity liable for any actions taken?

Generally, as long as the agent’s actions were necessary and in the best interest of the principal, the agent is not liable for any cause of action. However, this can vary based on the circumstances and legal jurisdictions.

Can the act of Agency by Necessity be applied retrospectively?

Yes, in some cases Agency by Necessity can be applied retrospectively if the court decides that it was indeed a situation of necessity.

Is there any discretion involved in Agency by Necessity?

Yes, the decision to act as an agent by necessity involves discretion. The individual must decide whether or not the situation is an immediate emergency and whether the potential harm of not acting outweighs the risks involved in acting without explicit authorization.

What are the limitations to Agency by Necessity?

The agent by necessity cannot use the principle as an excuse to perform actions that are illegal or unethical. The actions performed should only be those required to alleviate the emergency situation.

What can be the consequences for misuse of Agency by Necessity?

Misuse or abuse of Agency by Necessity could result in legal repercussions for the agent, ranging from civil lawsuits for damages to potential criminal charges for unauthorized actions.

Can agency by necessity be applied across different industries?

Yes, agency by necessity is a broad principle which can potentially applied in any situation where timely decisions and actions are imperative and the authorized person or entity is not available to provide instructions.

: How does the law generally view acts of Agency by Necessity?

: The law generally views acts of Agency by Necessity in a favorable light, provided the actions were necessary and in the best interest of the person or entity represented. However, this can depend greatly on specific legal jurisdictions and circumstances.

Related Finance Terms

  • Principal-Agent Relationship: This defines the legal relationship where one party, the agent, acts on behalf of another, the principal.
  • Agent’s Authority: This is the level of power and scope handed over to the agent by the principal for decision-making and transactions.
  • Ratification: This is when the principal endorses the actions carried out by the agent on their behalf, especially when the actions weren’t initially authorized.
  • Third-party interactions: These are engagements between the agent and other parties (third parties) as a representation of the principal.
  • Emergency Situations: One of the core triggers for agency by necessity. It refers to unexpected situations that require immediate action.

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