The issue in light of the below case is: How are damages determined for breach of contract?
The Famous Case of the “Hairy Hand”
To illustrate the principle that nonbreaching parties are to be put in the position that they would have been in had their contracts been fully performed, professors have often introduced students to the famous case of the “hairy hand.” The case concerns an unsuccessful operation on a boy’s scarred hand. Damages assessed against the doctor were based on the difference between the value to the boy of the hand that the doctor had promised and the value of the hand in its condition after the operation.
Sometimes forgotten in a dry discussion of the underlying principle is the boy whose hand was operated on. The boy, George Hawkins, suffered an electrical burn when he was 11 years old. The resulting scar was small and did not significantly affect the use of the hand. A doctor persuaded George to undergo surgery, emphasizing the social problems that the scarred hand might create. The operation was performed shortly after George’s eighteenth birthday. The skin graft was taken from George’s chest. There was infection and considerable bleeding. George was hospitalized for three months. The graft covered the thumb and two fingers and soon was matted with hair. Movement of the hand was greatly restricted. The jury awarded George $3,000 (approximately $24,000 in today’s dollars). After the Supreme Court of New Hampshire ordered a new trial, the case was settled for $1,400 ($11,200 in today’s dollars). George’s father took him to specialists in Montreal to see if the appearance of the hand could be improved, but was advised that nothing could be done.
George was so embarrassed by his hand that he did not go back to high school. Throughout his life, he was sensitive about his hand. He worked at various semi-skilled occupations, was a chauffeur for some years, married late in life, and had no children. He died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-four.
Dr. McGee, the doctor who convinced Hawkins to undergo the surgery that changed his life, had a somewhat different career. After the operation, McGee’s medical practice flourished. He was very popular and served as mayor of Berlin, New Hampshire, the scene of the events in the case. He formed McGee’s Symphony Orchestra as a hobby and performed throughout the area.a
a. Robert, “Hawkins Case: A Hair-Raising Experience,” 66 Harvard Law Review 1 (1978).