Sullivan v. O’Connor

363 Mass. 579, 296 N.E.2d 183 (1973)

Dawson, p. 7-9 (excerpted)


Facts: The plaintiff had two operations done on her nose by the defendant.  The plaintiff claimed that the defendant had promised to “enhance her beauty and improve her appearance”, and sued the defendant for breaking his promise.  The jury awarded damages to the plaintiff.  The defendant appealed, while the plaintiff waived her claim for expectancy damages.


Issue: Should the damages be based on reliance interest[1]?


Rule: Reliance damages should be granted when expectation damages are seen as excessive (because, for example, the defendant was not liable for negligence) but restitution damages are seen as insufficient (because the agreement ought to be at least minimally enforced).


Analysis: The ruling seems to have been made at least partially on policy grounds.  The court does not want to encourage “defensive medicine” by making it easy to sue for breach of promise.  On the other hand, the court doesn’t want to make it so difficult to sue for breach of promise that patients can only sue for malpractice (“there is fear that the public might be exposed to the enticements of charlatans”).


Conclusion: The court found the jury instructions were appropriate and affirmed the judgment.


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[1]The interest a nonbreaching party has in recovering costs stemming from that party's reliance on the performance of the contract.” – Black’s 7th