California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)
351. Special Damages
[Name of plaintiff] [also] claims damages for [identify special damages].
To recover for this harm, [name of plaintiff] must prove that when the parties made the contract, [name of defendant] knew or reasonably should have known of the special circumstances leading to such harm.
New September 2003
Directions for Use
Before giving this instruction, the judge should determine whether a particular item of damage qualifies as “special.”
Sources and Authority
- Civil Code section 3300 provides: “For the breach of an obligation arising from contract, the measure of damages, except where otherwise expressly provided by this code, is the amount which will compensate the party aggrieved for all the detriment proximately caused thereby, or which, in the ordinary course of things, would be likely to result therefrom.”
- “The detriment that is ‘likely to result therefrom’ is that which is foreseeable to the breaching party at the time the contract is entered into.” (Wallis v. Farmers Group, Inc. (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 718, 737 [269 Cal.Rptr. 299], internal citation omitted.)
- Restatement Second of Contracts, section 351, provides:
(1) Damages are not recoverable for loss that the party in breach did not have reason to foresee as a probable result of the breach when the contract was made.
(2) Loss may be foreseeable as a probable result of a breach because it follows from the breach
(a) in the ordinary course of events, or
(b) as a result of special circumstances, beyond the ordinary course of events, that the party in breach had reason to know.
(3) A court may limit damages for foreseeable loss by excluding recovery for loss of profits, by allowing recovery only for loss incurred in reliance, or otherwise if it concludes that in the circumstances justice so requires in order to avoid disproportionate compensation.
- “Special damages must fall within the rule of Hadley v. Baxendale, . . . that is, they must reasonably be supposed to have been contemplated or foreseeable by the parties when making the contract as the probable result of a breach. If special circumstances cause an unusual injury, special damages cannot be recovered unless the circumstances were known or should have been known to the party at fault at the time the contract was made.” (Sabraw v. Kaplan (1962) 211 Cal.App.2d 224, 227 [27 Cal.Rptr. 81], internal citations omitted.)
- “When reference is made to the terms of the contract alone, there is ordinarily little difficulty in determining what damages arise from its breach in the usual course of things, and the parties will be presumed to have contemplated such damages only. But where it is claimed the circumstances show that a special purpose was intended to be accomplished by one of the parties (a failure to accomplish which by means of the contract would cause him greater damage than would ordinarily follow from a breach by the other party), and such purpose was known to the other party, the facts showing the special purpose and the knowledge of the other party must be averred. This rule has frequently been applied to the breach of a contract for the sale of goods to be delivered at a certain time. In such cases the general rule of damages is fixed by reference to the market value of the goods at the time they were to have been delivered, because in the usual course of events the purchaser could have supplied himself with like commodities at the market price. And if special circumstances existed entitling the purchaser to greater damages for the defeat of a special purpose known to the contracting parties (as, for example, if the purchaser had already contracted to furnish the goods at a profit, and they could not be obtained in the market), such circumstances must be stated in the declaration with the facts which, under the circumstances, enhanced the injury.” (Mitchell v. Clarke (1886) 71 Cal. 163, 164–165 [11 P. 882], internal citation omitted.)
- “ ‘The requirement of knowledge or notice as a prerequisite to the recovery of special damages is based on the theory that a party does not and cannot assume limitless responsibility for all consequences of a breach, and that at the time of contracting he must be advised of the facts concerning special harm which might result therefrom, in order that he may determine whether or not to accept the risk of contracting.’ ” (Martin v. U-Haul Co. of Fresno (1988) 204 Cal.App.3d 396, 409 [251 Cal.Rptr. 17], internal citation omitted.)
- “[I]f special circumstances caused some unusual injury, special damages are not recoverable therefor unless the circumstances were known or should have been known to the breaching party at the time he entered into the contract. The requirement of knowledge or notice as a prerequisite to the recovery of special damages is based on the theory that a party does not and cannot assume limitless responsibility for all consequences of a breach, and that at the time of contracting he must be advised of the facts concerning special harm which might result therefrom, in order that he may determine whether or not to accept the risk of contracting.” (Brandon & Tibbs v. George Kevorkian Accountancy Corp. (1990) 226 Cal.App.3d 442, 455 [277 Cal.Rptr. 40], internal citations omitted.)
- “Contract damages must be clearly ascertainable in both nature and origin. A contracting party cannot be required to assume limitless responsibility for all consequences of a breach and must be advised of any special harm that might result in order to determine whether or not to accept the risk of contracting.” (Erlich v. Menezes (1999) 21 Cal.4th 543, 560 [87 Cal.Rptr.2d 886, 981 P.2d 978], internal citations omitted.)
- “When the facts show that a special purpose is intended to be accomplished by one of the parties (a failure to accomplish which by means of the contract would cause him greater damage than would ordinarily flow from a breach by the other party), and this special circumstance is brought to the attention of the other party, damages normally flowing from a breach of the contract in view of such special circumstances are said to be within the contemplation of the parties.” (Christensen v. Slawter (1959) 173 Cal.App.2d 325, 334 [343 P.2d 341], internal citations omitted.)
1 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Contracts, § 871
15 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 177, Damages, § 177.13 (Matthew Bender)
1 Matthew Bender Practice Guide: California Contract Litigation, Ch. 7, Seeking or Opposing Damages in Contract Actions, 7.04, 7.08