The objective of this paper is to investigate the behaviour of laminated fibrereinforced composite plates subject to large deformations by developing a shell finite element and to predict the failure by illustrating the critical elements of the model. The laminates are assumed to be orthotropic and the first order shear deformation theory is applied in the formulation by using triangular shell elements. Laminates under transverse loading were analysed for different boundary conditions and ply orientations. The maximum stress, Hashin's and Tsai-Wu failure criteria are integrated to the code to detect first ply failure. © Civil-Comp Press, 2012.