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Damages for nonpecuniary loss may be recovered when the contract, because of its nature, is intended to gratify a nonpecuniary interest and, because of the circumstances surrounding the formation or the nonperformance of the contract, the obligor knew, or should have known, that his failure to perform would cause that kind of loss.
Regardless of the nature of the contract, these damages may be recovered also when the obligor intended, through his failure, to aggrieve the feelings of the obligee. See La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 1998.
Iray Young, a forty-nine-year-old service station owner, purchased a 1988 Ford Supercab pickup truck from Bordelon Motors, Inc. for use in connection with his service station and for recreation and pleasure. Within three days of the purchase, Young had returned to the dealer complaining about one of a number of major problems that surfaced with the truck and which subsequently prompted this redhibition action for rescission of the sale, attorney's fees, and damages for mental pain and anguish. Young's medical doctor and friend, Dr. John Fruge, testified that the truck had caused Young problems with sleeping, concentrating, and even sex. He noted that Young became tense, angry and frustrated during this period and that this developed into depression for which Dr. Fruge prescribed a combination tranquilizer and antidepressant. The Court of Appeal, Third Circuit denied Young’s recovery of mental anguish damages from defendant car manufacturer associated with the purchase of a defective vehicle. Young appealed.
Could a purchaser of a defective or useless vehicle which has not caused physical injury recover damages for emotional distress?
Yes, but only if the requirements of Louisiana Civil Code articles 2545 and 1998 were satisfied.
The court affirmed the appellate court's judgment denying Young’s recovery of mental anguish damages. According to the court, Young could recover mental anguish damages caused by purchase of a defective vehicle even though the vehicle was not unreasonably dangerous and he had not sustained physical injuries, but only if the requirements of La. Civ. Code art. 2545, 1998 were satisfied. Art. 2545 addressed the seller's liability for a product that contained a redhibitory defect, and art. 1998 concerned the availability of nonpecuniary damages in breach of contract cases. Under art. 1998, if the purchaser intended to gratify a significant nonpecuniary interest by way of the contract and the seller either knew or should have known that failure to perform would cause nonpecuniary loss to the purchaser, then the requirements for recovery of nonpecuniary damages were satisfied. In this case, the court concluded that Young did not make the requisite showing of having purchased the vehicle to gratify a significant nonpecuniary interest. The court found that Young’s desires to have a truck with a larger cab area so that he could lie down on trips if his back bothered him or to use the truck in his service station business or on fishing trips constituted pecuniary interests.