Hawkins v. McGee

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Hawkins v. McGee
Court New Hampshire Supreme Court
Citation 84 N.H. 114, 146 A. 641 (1929)
Date decided June 4, 1929

Facts

When he was 11 years old, Hawkins got his hand burned by an electrical wire in the kitchen. As a result, his hand became burned & scarred.

Defendant Dr. McGee promised Plaintiff Hawkins that his hand would be a "100% good hand" after a skin graft operation. The hand was unsatisfactory after the operation (the palm became covered in hair).

Procedural History

Hawkins sued McGee for breach of contract.

The jury was instructed to award damages based on restitution damages (the difference between Hawkins's prior hand and his now-hairy hand).

The jury awarded $3,000 (~ $52,000 in 2023) damages to Hawkins. The judge demanded that Hawkins get no more than $500.

Issues

Was what the Dr. said really a promise? Were the instructions to the Jury proper?


What money damages would be appropriate to award Hawkins?

Holding

Yes, it was part of a valid contract. No, jury instructions were improper.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court decided:

(awarded damages) = (value of perfect hand promised) - (value of current hand + incidental damages)

The jury shouldn't have awarded damages for the pain & suffering of Hawkins.

Judgment

New trial ordered.

Reasons

The jury instructions should have specified expectation damages (the difference between a perfect hand as promised and the actual condition of the hand).

Comments

  • "Case of the Hairy Hand." It is famous for its mention in the movie and novel The Paper Chase & On the Basis of Sex.

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