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Law School Case Brief

Sullivan v. O'Connor - 363 Mass. 579, 296 N.E.2d 183 (1973)


Some cases have taken the simple view that the promise by the physician is to be treated like an ordinary commercial promise, and accordingly that the successful plaintiff is entitled to a standard measure of recovery for breach of contract, compensatory damages, an amount intended to put the plaintiff in the position he would be in if the contract had been performed. The plaintiff may elect restitution damages, an amount corresponding to any benefit conferred by the plaintiff upon the defendant in the performance of the contract disrupted by the defendant's breach.


A surgeon performed plastic surgery upon a patient’s nose two times. Dissatisfied with the results because the surgery disfigured and deformed her nose, she sued for breach of a contract to improve her appearance. The jury found in her favor and awarded damages for expenses and for pain and suffering. The case was elevated to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.


Was there a breach of contract to improve appearance?




The Court held that the patient could bring a breach of contract action against her doctor because he made promises of a specific outcome, and that pain and suffering beyond that contemplated were compensable. In an action by a professional entertainer against a surgeon for breach of a contract to improve the appearance of the plaintiff's nose in two operations, the plaintiff was entitled to recover not only her out of pocket expenses, but also for worsening of the appearance of her nose by the surgery and for pain and suffering and mental distress involved in a third operation.

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