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Law School Case Brief

Hawkins v. McGee - 84 N.H. 114, 146 A. 641, 1929 N.H. LEXIS 61


The measure of recovery on a contract is based upon what a defendant should have given a plaintiff, not what plaintiff has given defendant or otherwise expended.


After plaintiff injured his hand, he sought medical treatment from defendant. The defendant proposed surgery by using skin from plaintiff’s chest and grafting it onto plaintiff’s injured palm, and he guaranteed that plaintiff could return to work a few days afterward with “a 100 percent perfect hand.” Plaintiff’s recovery time was longer and the palm of his hand began growing thick hair like that on his chest. Dissatisfied with the results of the operation, plaintiff and sued defendant for breach of contract alleging that defendant provided a warranty that his hand would be perfect. The jury reached a verdict in plaintiff’s favor and awarded him damages in accordance with the trial court’s instructions, namely awarding him damages for the pain from the operation and the damage the operation had caused to his hand. Judgment was entered in favor of plaintiff. Defendant appealed.


Where a party’s performance under a contract for medical care falls below the standard warranted, should the measure of damages include tort damages for pain and suffering, as well as impairment?


No, where the defendant’s performance under the contract is does not rise to the promised standard, the correct measure of plaintiff's damages was the difference between the value of the expectation and the value of what was received.


The trial court improperly instructed the jury as to the measure of damages for defendant’s breach of warranty. Instead, the proper measure of damages was the difference between the value of a perfect hand and value of his hand in its post-operation condition. In short, the plaintiff was limited to recover only his expectation damages. The pain resulting from the operation was a legal detriment suffered by plaintiff in consideration for the contract. The action was reversed for a new trial with corrected instructions.

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