White v. Benkowski

37 Wis. 2d 285, 155 N.W.2d 74 (1967)

 

RULE:

In Wisconsin, compensatory damages are given to make whole the damage or injury suffered by the injured party. On the other hand, punitive damages are given on the basis of punishment to the injured party not because he has been injured, which injury has been compensated with compensatory damages, but to punish the wrongdoer for his malice and to deter others from like conduct.

FACTS:

Appellant tenants filed a breach of contract action against their appellee landlords, alleging that the landlords did not provide an adequate water supply in their home. A jury awarded the tenants $ 10 in actual damages. The trial court, however, reduced the award to $ 1. Appellants challenged the reduced award. The tenants argued that they were entitled to the entire $ 10 as well as punitive damages. The court affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court's judgment in the tenants' breach of contract action. The trial court erred in reducing the actual damages amount determined by the jury. The tenants were not entitled to punitive damages because punitive damages were not recoverable in breach of contract actions.

ISSUE:

Are appellants entitled to punitive damages in a breach of contract action?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

The court held that the tenants were entitled to $ 10 because that figure was the actual damages determined by the jury and the trial court should not have disturbed that finding The court, however, held that the tenants were not entitled to punitive damages because punitive damages were not recoverable in breach of contract actions. The court held that in some cases where a breach of contractual duty led to a tort violation, punitive damages could be available. However, the court held that because no tort was pled or proven by the tenants, they were not entitled to punitive damages.

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