Contingent Liability: What Is It, and What Are Some Examples?


The likelihood of loss is described as probable, reasonably possible, or remote. The ability to estimate a loss is described as known, reasonably estimable, or not reasonably estimable. Pending lawsuits and product warranties are common contingent liability examples because their outcomes what is inventory meaning definition examples are uncertain. The accounting rules for reporting a contingent liability differ depending on the estimated dollar amount of the liability and the likelihood of the event occurring. The accounting rules ensure that financial statement readers receive sufficient information.

The business projects a $5 million loss if the firm loses the case, but the legal department of the business believes the rival firm has a strong case. As the name suggests, if there are very slight chances of the liability occurring, the US GAAP considers calling it a remote contingency. Possible contingencies are just disclosed to the investors by the management during the Annual general meetings (AGMs).

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Any case with an ambiguous chance of success should be noted in the financial statements but do not need to be listed on the balance sheet as a liability. Suppose a lawsuit is filed against a company, and the plaintiff claims damages up to $250,000. It’s impossible to know whether the company should report a contingent liability of $250,000 based solely on this information.

  • The analysis of contingent liabilities, especially when it comes to calculating the estimated amount, is sophisticated and detailed.
  • Each business transaction is recorded using the double-entry accounting method, with a credit entry to one account and a debit entry to another.
  • The key principle established by the Standard is that a provision should be recognised only when there is a liability i.e. a present obligation resulting from past events.
  • If the lawyer and the company decide that the lawsuit is frivolous, there won’t be any need to provide a disclosure to the public.
  • The company agrees to guarantee that the supplier’s bank loan will be repaid.

The accounting of contingent liabilities is a very subjective topic and requires sound professional judgment. Contingent liabilities can be a tricky concept for a company’s management, as well as for investors. Judicious use of a wide variety of techniques for the valuation of liabilities and risk weighting may be required in large companies with multiple lines of business. However, sometimes companies put in a disclosure of such liabilities anyway.

Related IFRS Standards

A business should provide a disclosure note to describe the contingent liability, even if it is not recognized, so long as its occurrence is more than remote. The income statement, which presents information on a company’s revenues, expenses, net income, and earnings per share, can also be impacted by contingent liabilities. When a contingent liability becomes probable and the amount can be estimated, the company must recognize an expense in the income statement.

Check for Disclosures in the Footnotes

Such contingency is neither recorded on the financial statements nor disclosed to the investors by the management. This shows us that the probability of occurrence of such an event is less than that of a possible contingency. Pending lawsuits are considered contingent because the outcome is unknown. A warranty is considered contingent because the number of products that will be returned under a warranty is unknown. The analysis of contingent liabilities, especially when it comes to calculating the estimated amount, is sophisticated and detailed. To make sure a business’s financial reports comply with regulations, a public accounting firm must assess these reports.

Contingent Loss and Asset Implications

In contrast, contingent liabilities are disclosed in footnotes due to uncertainty around the timing and amount of settlement. ABC Company’s legal team believes the chance of a negative outcome for ABC is probable. They estimate the potential legal settlement to be between $1 million and $2 million– with the most likely settlement amount being $1.25 million. In this case, the company should record a contingent liability on the books in the amount of $1.25 million.


A warranty is an assurance by the seller or supplier of goods and services. The party providing the warranty frames the warranty as a statement of fact. In the context of a business sale, the buyer will seek as many warranties as the seller will provide. A key difference between a real liability and a contingent liability relates to the certainty of an obligation to pay. The articles and research support materials available on this site are educational and are not intended to be investment or tax advice. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly.

In simple words, contingent liabilities are those obligations that will arise in future due to certain events that took place in the past or will be taking place in future. If a company pledges that it will contribute to social programs as part of its CSR endeavors, it may face contingent liabilities. For example, if a firm commits to funding a community development project contingent on the project’s approval by municipal authorities, the commitment represents a contingent liability. First and foremost, companies should engage in strong financial planning and forecasting. By doing so, they can hypothetically account for these liabilities in their financial forecasts.