Hawkins v. McGee – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Hawkins v. McGee, 84 N.H. 114, 146 A. 641 (N.H. 1929).

Facts

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.

Issue

  • How are damages determined for breach of contract?

Holding and Rule

  • The plaintiff was entitled to expectancy damages plus incidental losses resulting from the breach. Expectancy damages are damages sufficient to put the plaintiff in the position he would have been if the contract had been performed.

In this case, Hawkins was not entitled to damages for pain and suffering because he would still have endured them had the procedure been successful. Hawkins was entitled to the difference between what he sought – a perfect hand, and what he received – a hairy hand. The plaintiff was also entitled to incidental losses resulting from the breach.

Disposition

Judgment reversed.

Notes

Hawkins could not bring tort claims against McGee because there was no provable negligence. Normally a doctor’s claims regarding treatment do not form a contract such that lack of success amounts to breach of contract. In this case however McGee guaranteed that the operation would give him a 100% perfect hand.

This is the famous “hairy hand” case that was mentioned in the movie “The Paper Chase”.

See Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. for a law school contracts case brief in which the manufacturer of a medical treatment product was ordered to honor a reward promised to anyone who used the product unsuccessfully.


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