Laurin v. DeCarolis Constr. Co., Inc.

372 Mass. 688, 363 N.E.2d 675 (1977).

Dawson, p. 26-27 (excerpted)


Facts: The plaintiffs bought a tract of land from the defendant.  Before the transaction was closed, the defendant took gravel from the property without permission.  The plaintiffs sued for breach of contract and were awarded the market value of the gravel.


Procedural Posture: The case was appealed and reversed by an intermediate appeals court on the basis that the damages weren’t consistent with contract damages, but with a “conversion” tort.  They reduced the damages to the amount by which the property’s value was reduced by removing the gravel.  This ruling was appealed in turn.


Issue: On what basis should damages be awarded to the plaintiff?


Rule: The defendant ought to be liable for the fair market value of the materials removed.


Analysis: The court says it is not sufficient to award damages based on how much less the property is worth.  They give as an example chopping down trees from a timber tract.  Cutting these trees down might not reduce the value of the property, but the trees themselves may be worth a lot, and the plaintiff is entitled to that value (less the cost of chopping the trees down) because that’s profit the plaintiff should have had the opportunity to make.


Conclusion: The court ruled that the lower court hadn’t determined damages correctly.  It remanded the case to recalculate the damages.

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