Contingent Liability – meaning, definition, explanation with examples

Contingent Liability

A contingent liability is a possible obligation arising from past events and may arise in future depending on the occurrence or non-occurrence of one or more uncertain future events. A contingent liability may also be a present obligation that arises from past events.

It represents a potential obligation that could be created depending on the outcome of an event. E.g. if supplier of the business files a legal suit, it will not be treated as a liability because no obligation is created immediately. If the verdict of the case is given in favour of the supplier then only the obligation is created. Till that it is treated as a contingent liability. Please note that contingent liability is not recorded in books of account, but disclosed by way of a note to the financial statements.

The term ‘Contingent Liability’ can be defined as

(a) a possible obligation that arises from past events and the existence of which will be confirmed only by the occurrence or non-occurrence of one or more uncertain future events not wholly within the control of the enterprise; or

(b) a present obligation that arises from past events but is not recognised because:

(i) it is not probable that an outflow of resources embodying economic benefits will be required to settle the obligation; or

(ii) a reliable estimate of the amount of the obligation cannot be made.

An enterprise should not recognise a contingent liability. A Contingent-liability is required to be disclosed unless possibility of outflow of a resource embodying economic benefits is remote. These liabilities are assessed continually to determine whether an outflow of resources embodying economic benefits has become probable. If it becomes probable that an outflow or future economic benefits will be required for an item previously dealt with as a contingent liability. a provision is recognised in financial statements of the period in which the change in probability occurs except in the extremely rare circumstances where no reliable estimate can be made.

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