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Hawkins v. McGee

From lawbrain.com

Hawkins v. McGee, 84 N.H. 114, 146 A. 641 (N.H. 1929), is a case of major importance regarding damages in contracts decided by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Hawkins is also notorious among law students for its mention in the John Jay Osborn, Jr. book, The Paper Chase, and in the film version of that work, as well as its use in legal education. Hawkins is commonly referred to as the "Hairy Hand" case.

Hawkins (P) underwent surgery to repair scar tissue on his hand resulting from burns he sustained from contact with an electrical wire. Dr. McGee (D) gave Hawkins a 100% guarantee that he would be able to repair the scar tissue by grafting skin from his chest to his hand. The surgery was unsuccessful and Hawkins was left with a hairy hand. At trial, Hawkins sought damages for breach of contract due to McGee’s failure to perform including pain and suffering. The jury entered judgment for Hawkins but the judge ordered remittitur. Hawkins refused and brought this appeal.

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Summary of case facts

Hawkins' hand was scarred from contact with an electrical wire. He was approached by McGee, a doctor, about having the scars removed. McGee guaranteed to make the injured hand a "one hundred percent good hand". McGee used a technique of "skin grafting" that he was unfamiliar with and failed to remove the scars. Because McGee used skin from Hawkins's chest area, the graft caused the palm of Hawkins' hand to grow thick hair.

Hawkins sued under a theory of breach of contract and was paid for damages from the pain from the operation and the damage the operation had caused to his hand. The issue before the court was what type of damages should be awarded.

The court held that the amount of damages awarded should be equal to the difference between the value of what Hawkins was promised to receive--a "one hundred percent good hand"-- and what he in fact received--a hairy palm-- as well as any incidental losses he incurred as a result of the breach. This is known as expectation interest, (or Expectation damages) which attempts to put the plaintiff into a position where they would have been had the contract not breached. The court made a point of dismissing the argument towards damages for the pain and suffering because pain and suffering were an implicit part of the contract for surgery. In sum, the plaintiff received damages in the amount of the difference between what he expected under contract--a perfect hand--and what he received--a hairy hand. Pain and suffering were found to be part of the contract, part of the operation, and therefore not part of damages or breach.

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