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In a breach of contract action, the measure of damages is the amount necessary to place the non-breaching party in the same position he or she would have been in had the contract been performed. A trial court's award of damages will be upheld as long as it is a just and reasonable estimate based on relevant data, even if it is not proven with mathematical precision. Of course, damages may not be based on mere speculation or guesswork. The evidence offered must form an adequate basis for a reasoned judgment And damage calculations must be sufficiently detailed to support an award. Damages may be awarded only when the party claiming them has adequately demonstrated that the opponent's breach caused the harm suffered.
Defendant contractor hired plaintiff supplier to provide concrete planks for construction of a parking garage. The contractor and supplier entered a written agreement which provided, inter alia, that the contractor would pay 90 percent of the contract price when the planks were delivered and the balance one month later, and included a provision requiring the contractor to pay interest on unpaid balances. After the agreement was signed, the parties exchanged telephone calls and faxes in which they discussed delivery terms and payment. When the planks were delivered, the contractor noticed signs of "spalling" and "honeycombing" and, although it used the planks to construct the garage, it withheld full payment to recoup expenses it incurred to remediate problems caused by the condition of the planks. Plaintiff sued the contractor and the insurance company, seeking the balance due on concrete products the supplier delivered. Defendants filed a counterclaim for damages, alleging that the products were defective. Following a bench trial, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia awarded the supplier damages and interest in the amount of $ 49,692, and denied defendants' counterclaim. Defendants appealed.
The appellate court held that the trial court did not err by finding that the contractor did not prove that the additional costs it incurred were caused by defects in the planks. Moreover, the court held that judge did not clearly err in finding an insufficient causal connection between the defects in plaintiff’s planks and many of the remedial efforts undertaken by defendants. The court noted that damages may be awarded only when the party claiming them has adequately demonstrated that the opponent's breach caused the harm suffered. In this case, the court held that many of the costs defendants claimed they had incurred were not shown to be directly caused by plaintiff. The court held that defendants failed to distinguish between costs they incurred as a result of plaintiff’s defective planking and costs that would have been borne even without a breach. Furthermore, the defendants failed to provide a reasonable measure of damages concerning their remedial labor costs. The court also held that the plaintiff retained the right to collect interest on unpaid balances because the communications which the parties had after entering the written agreement modified but did not replace the agreement.