Compensation for Harm to Economic Interests

AuthorJamie Cassels
This chapter canvasses the principles of recovery for harm to economic
interests. The chapter focuses primarily upon contract law, since con-
tract is the prim ary means by which persons establish economic rights.
However, tort law also offers protection against economic loss. For ex-
ample, the action for deceit or fraud is of ancient origin. More recently,
the protection of economic interests in tort has been further extended
through the development of the tort of negligent misrepresentation and a
cautious expansion of recovery of economic losses caused by negligence.
At one level of generality, there is no real difference in the way
in which damages are calculated in contract and tort. Both are ba sed
on the principle of restitutio in integr um — that the plaint iff is to be
made whole. This is accomplished by awarding a sum of money that
will put the plainti ff in the position as though the wrong had not
been done. However, in application, this principle often works differ-
ently in contract and tort. Since contracts c reate expectations about the
future, the standard me asure of recovery is expect ation damages. Tort
law protects interests in t he present, and the primar y measure of dam-
ages is the reliance or restoration mea sure. This chapter considers the
principles regarding both measures of damages.
1) Introduction
The ordinary measure of damages in actions for breach of contract is
the expectation mea sure. Expectation damages are forward-looking.
They do not merely compensate persons for positive losses suffered as
the result of a wrong, but give to the plaintiff the benef‌its expected as a
result of a promise. Expectation damages aim to put the plaintiff in the
position she would have been in had the contract been performed. In
the case of Wertheim v Chicoutimi Pulp Co, for example, the court stated:
[I]t is the general intent ion of the law that, in giv ing damages for
breach of contract, the pa rty complaining should, s o far as it can be
done by money, be placed in the same position as he would h ave been
in if the contract h ad been performed.1
Expectation dam ages are designed to secure for the plaintiff the
benef‌it of the contract. Most generally, they can be calculated by deter-
mining the difference between the position that the plaintiff would have oc-
cupied, had the contract been performed, and the position that the plaintiff
is actually in as a result of breach or non-performance of the contract.
Sometimes, when there are no consequentia l or out-of-pocket
losses to the plaintiff associated with the contract, the expectat ion
measure of damages w ill be calculated simply by reference to the net
gain that the plaintiff would have obtained as a result of the contract,
subject to contingencies that would have affected the plaintiff’s pos-
ition even absent the defendant’s breach. For example, if the contract
is for the sale of goods at $100, and at the time the defendant fails to
deliver the goods, they are worth $120, the expectation dam ages are
$20 — the net benef‌it that would have been obtained by the plain-
tiff (assuming that the plaintiff ha s not pre-paid). Giving this a mount
in damages wi ll put the plaintiff in the s ame position f‌inancially as
though he had received the goods. On other occasions, the plaintiffs
will have incur red additional consequential losses that must also be
compensated if they are to be put in the position they would have
been in had the contract been performed. For example, in the situa-
tion above, if the plaintiff h ad arranged and paid for transportation for
the expected goods, the damages award would also have to include
1 [1911] AC 301 at 307 (PC); see also Robinson v Harm an (1848), 1 Exch 850 at
855, Parke B.
Compensation for Ha rm to Economic Interests 19
that wasted expenditure. Alternatively, the plaintiff may h ave been
intending to use the goods for some prof‌it-making enterpr ise and, as a
result of the breach, will h ave lost an opportunity to make a prof‌it. The
extent to which these additional consequential losses are recoverable
is discussed in greater detail below.
2) Why Are Expectation Damages the Standard Measure
in Contract Law?
Much legal scholarship has been devoted to the question of why con-
tract law should protect the expectation intere st. It has been observed
that the moral force of the restitution and relia nce interests is much
stronger and more widely accepted than the expectation interest.2 The
restitution interest ref‌lects the widely held sentiment that obtaining a
benef‌it by fraud, deceit, or promise-breaking i s wrong and that unjustly
acquired gains should be disgorged. The reliance intere st similarly rests
upon a widely shared moral sentiment th at injuries suffered by reason
of a broken promise or misrepresentation should be made whole; that
if a person relies upon another and the other fails to keep her word,
any losses suffered should be compensated. But the expectation inter-
est goes much further and gr ants to the plaintiff compensation not only
for the loss suffered, but the gain anticipated. The plaintiff’s “loss” is
def‌ined in terms of something he never had. Thus, it remains a matter
of considerable interest among legal scholars why contract law pursues
the protection of expectations so relentlessly.
a) Expectation Damages in a Credit Economy: Planning and Risk
Allocat ion
There is a lively historical debate regarding the emergence of expect-
ation damages as the standard measure of damages in contract law.3
There is some consensus that t he development was related to the grow-
ing prominence of executory contracts (agreements about the future)
in an increasingly market-oriented economy. There are several reasons
for this. Expectation damages allow contracting parties to treat prom-
ises about the future as pres ent values. In a complex market economy,
2 LL Fuller & WR P urdue, “The Reliance Interest in Cont ract Damages” (1936)
46 Yale LJ 52.
3 Morton Horwit z, The Transformatio n of American Law 1780–1860 (Cambridge,
MA: Har vard University Press, 1977); AWB Simpson, “The Hor witz Thesis
and the Histor y of Contracts” (1979) 46 U Chicago LR 533; PS Atiya h, The Rise
and Fall of Freedom of Contract (Oxford: Claren don Press; New York: Oxford
University P ress, 1979).

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT