Dawson, p. 27-29: Comment: Damages as Punishment for Contract Breach


Johnny D. makes the distinction between contracts and torts.  We award punitive damages in torts because we want to punish and in turn deter actions that society considers “highly offensive”.


There are arguments for and against punitive damages.


·        The argument in favor of these damages is that prosecutors don’t have the time to punish everyone that should be punished, and when they do, the victim doesn’t usually get restitution.  If private parties sue for torts to collect punitive damages, they will get reimbursed for their losses while at the same time deterring others from committing the same tort.

·        The argument against punitive damages says that defendants in torts don’t have the same protections as criminal defendants even though they are being accused of similar wrongs.  They also say that juries can go hog wild in awarding damages and judges have no rational basis for deciding when to control them.


The question follows: is it appropriate to award punitive damages for breach of contract?  J.D. will argue that it’s not.


Punitive damages are only available in especially bad torts.  Even if a contract is breached in an especially nasty way, there is usually an independent tort for which you can sue and get punitive damages.


Dawson warns us that through time, the scope of tort liability is slowly expanding and may grow to include at least certain types of contract breaches.  In the future, it may turn out there doesn’t need to be an independent tort in order for a plaintiff to collect punitive damages for a nasty breach.


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