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Instructing Juries on Noneconomic Contract Damages

42 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2012 Last revised: 20 Aug 2012

David A. Hoffman

University of Pennsylvania Law School; Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School

Alexander S. Radus

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: March 14, 2012


Gathering pattern contract jury instructions from every State, we examine jurisdictions' treatment of noneconomic damages. While the conventional account holds that there is a uniform preference against awards of noneconomic damages, we find four different approaches in pattern instructions, with only one state explicitly prohibiting juries from considering noneconomic losses. Lay juries have considerably more freedom to award the promisee's noneconomic damages than the hornbooks would have us believe.

We substantiate this claim with an online survey experiment asking respondents about a common contract case, and instructing them using the differing pattern forms. We found that subjects routinely awarded more than the promisee's baseline economic losses. In one of the categories of instruction — in which contract juries are instructed to award a tort-like form of remedy — subjects returned almost two times more in damages than the promisee's mere expectation. The resulting picture of contract remedies is considerably more complex than the conventional wisdom portrays, but significantly more realistic.

Keywords: jury instructions, contract damages, noneconomic losses, law and psychology, expectation, contracts

JEL Classification: K12

Suggested Citation

Hoffman, David A. and Radus, Alexander S., Instructing Juries on Noneconomic Contract Damages (March 14, 2012). Fordham Law Review, Forthcoming; Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-24. Available at SSRN: or

David Hoffman (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School

127 Wall St
New Haven, CT 06520
United States

Alexander Radus

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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