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Although the general rule is that damages are the amount of the loss the creditor has sustained, or of the gain of which he has been deprived, yet there are cases in which damages may be assessed without calculating altogether on the pecuniary loss, or the privation of pecuniary gain, to the party. When the contract has for its object the gratification of some intellectual enjoyment, whether in religion, morality, or taste, or some convenience or other legal gratification, although these are not appreciated in money by the parties, yet damages are due for their breach.
On the 6th of April, Mrs. Anna Lewis, living at Yoakum, Tex., telegraphed to D. H. Holmes, the most fashionable millinery establishment of the city of New Orleans, a request to make five dresses by April 17. D.H. Holmes answered in the affirmative. Mrs. Lewis immediately shipped to D. H. Holmes, by express, the materials for the dresses, which had been bought from the D. H. Holmes establishment a few days before. On the 8th of April she wrote to D. H. Holmes, explaining that the dresses were for her daughter, who was to be married on the 19th, and that the dresses would have to be at Yoakum by the 17th. On the 12th she telegraphed to D. H. Holmes: "Wire me in regard to dresses at once." On the 13th D. H. Holmes telegraphed to her: "Will ship wedding dress tomorrow, balance on the 19th." On the same day she telegraphed to D. H. Holmes: "Daughter leaves 19th. Must have dresses before. Ship immediately. High water may delay arrival.” D. H. Holmes answered by mail to the effect that they could not ship the dresses before the 19th, but that, if Mrs. Lewis preferred, they could ship them to the bride's destination. On the 14th D. H. Holmes shipped the wedding dress. It reached Yoakum on the 16th. The young lady was to marry a man of wealth and of high social standing, and she herself belonged to the same high social rank. On her wedding tour she was to visit the city of Mexico, and other cities, where entertainments in her honor were planned, and the dresses had been ordered in prevision of these functions. Coming from the leading millinery establishment of the leading city of the South, there was an expectation that the dress would be a thing of beauty. However, it was four inches too short in front, and, as manifested by the bride herself: "It was just like wearing a short rainy-day skirt, with an immense train behind." At this discovery the expectant bride was overcome by disappointment and chagrin. She had to be held up while her mother and two friends undertook to rectify the garment. What could be done was done, but the gown continued to be one inch too short in front, and the bride was ashamed to wear it, though forced by necessity to do so.
Mrs. Lewis telegraphed at once to D. H. Holmes: "Skirt four inches short. Length should be forty-three inches. See to others." The next morning (the 17th) she telegraphed: "Do not ship other dresses until further notice." But on the evening of the same day she telegraphed: "Send dresses to Yoakum not later than 19th, without fail." On the next day (the 18th) D. H. Holmes mailed a letter, stating that they “followed measurements furnished by yourself in making it forty-two inches, hence [they] do not feel [themselves] responsible for the mistake. As the telegram states the skirt is four inches too short [they] will require for the other dresses forty-six inches. The quantity of material furnished [by Mrs. Lewis] will not make the dresses and the definite instructions which were expected have not been received, so [D.H. Holmes] have stopped work until [they] hear from [Mrs. Lewis] more definitely concerning them.” On the 25th Mrs. Lewis wrote to D. H. Holmes, telling him that if the dresses were not forthcoming they would be left on his hands; and on the 28th D. H. Holmes returned the dress goods as they had been sent to them, without their having been even unfolded.
The bride, it seems, was counting absolutely upon having the dresses, and found herself entirely unprovided for the entertainments incident to her wedding tour and to her arrival at the home of her husband in Louisville, Ky. For want of suitable dresses, she had to forego these entertainments, and to decline all invitations in the several cities she visited, and in fact to cut short her bridal tour; all to her great chagrin and mortification and humiliation. Thus, the instant suit is brought to recover damages for the breach of the contract to make and deliver the dresses. The district court awarded contract damages in the amount of $575.
Is the district court’s award of contract damages excessive?
In the assessment of damages under this rule, as well as in cases of offenses, quasi offenses, and quasi contracts, much discretion must be left to the judge or jury, while in other cases they have none, but are bound to give such damages under the above rules as will fully indemnify the creditor, whenever the contract has been broken by the fault, negligence, fraud, or bad faith of the debtor. In the instant case, no damages are demanded in connection with the wedding dress, the claim being predicated exclusively upon the failure to furnish the four other dresses. In computing the damages the allowance must be restricted to what may reasonably be held to have been within the contemplation of the parties in entering into the contract. The contract was to furnish the dresses in time for the wedding on the 19th. D. H. Holmes must be held to have known that, if the dresses were not finished by that day, the bride would be keenly disappointed. Also that the bride would need the dresses for the festivities incident to her wedding and immediately following, for which it is customary for brides to provide themselves with a trousseau. In gauging this disappointment of the bride the surrounding circumstances must, as a matter of course, be considered. And one of these is the fact that entertainments were planned, and that for want of the dresses these entertainments would have to be given up; and another is her humiliation in going to her husband unprovided with a suitable trousseau.