Economic Loss Doctrine Prevents Double-Dipping in Damages

Sometimes I use this blog as a notepad for obscure legal theories that I’m going to use later.

Like this one, on the “economic loss doctrine.”

If you have a plaintiff who sues you both for breach of contract damages and for tort damages arising out of the same transaction, you may be able to get the tort claims dismissed, per a Tennessee Court of Appeals opinion released yesterday.

The case is Milan Supply Chain Solutions, Inc. v. Navistar Inc. et. al,  W201800084COAR3CV,  2019 WL 3812483 (Tenn. App. Aug. 14, 2019), and it discussed this rule, known as the “economic loss doctrine.” The theory was “created by the courts to avoid the ‘coming collision between warranty and contract on the one hand and the torts of strict liability, negligence, fraud and misrepresentation on the other’.”

The heart of the concept is stated as:

[C]ontract and tort are separate and distinct areas of the law that provide separate and distinct remedies. A party who enters into a contract which contains terms that limit recovery in the event of a breach [is] typically unable to circumvent such provisions by alleging a tort occurred as well. The warranty or contract’s terms and conditions set forth the rules governing the relationship, and tort law does not expand the remedies of the contract beyond the agreed-to terms. Absent personal injury or damage to other property, the sole remedy lies in contract.

The theory is that a party to a contract is free to contract for the terms of their purchase agreement, and this doctrine protects the right to allocate risk in a transaction.

A good “real life” example of this would be where a party limits the damages for breach in a real estate transaction, such as by providing that damages are limited to a return of the deposit to the buyer. Under this theory, the buyer would not be able to, later, subvert that contract provision by suing for damages in tort.

Author: David

I am a creditors rights attorney with Bone McAllester Norton PLLC in Nashville, Tennessee.

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