The Law School Authority

Hawkins v. McGee Case Brief

Summary of Hawkins v. McGee
84 N.H. 114 (1929)

Facts: Mr. Hawkins met with Mr. McGee, a doctor, to repair some scar tissue on his hand. McGee promised Hawkins a “hundred percent good hand.” Following the operation, Hawkins’ hand became badly mangled, with thick hair growing out of the palm as a result of the experimental skin graft surgery.

Procedure: Hawkins sued McGee for breach of contract and the jury found for Hawkins, awarding $3,000. On appeal, the appellate court said the verdict would be set aside unless Hawkins agreed to return all but $500 (they held the damages awarded were excessive). Hawkins refused, and the verdict was overturned.

Issue: The true measure of damages as applied to this case would be the difference “between the value to [Hawkins] of a perfect hand such as the jury found the defendant promised him, and the value of his hand in its present condition…” Did the lower court follow this rule correctly?

Holding: The New Hampshire Supreme Court held that the lower court’s instructions regarding damages were incorrect, and found that the evidence presented would have justified a verdict for an amount sufficient to cover the cost of a new operation to correct the injury to the hand. Overturned and sent down for retrial.

Analysis: The Supreme Court in NH restated the rule for damages in a contract breach. More specifically, the measure of damages is the difference between the value of the contract as carried out and the value of the contract as broken. [See squib case Sullivan v. O’Connor on pg. 7 for more]



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