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Allen v. Jones

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff sued Defendant, an owner of Miller Jones Valley Mortuary in order to claim the damages for the loss of cremated remains of his brother that were lost in transit from California to Illinois. The trail court rejected Allen’s complaint on ground of failure to plead recognized damages.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    In a breach of contract claim, harm is recoverable for mental misery without physical damage for negligent mishandling of a corpse by a mortuary in California.

    Facts.

    Carl D. Allen (plaintiff) documented suit against Nicholas Jones, exclusively and as a proprietor of the Miller Jones Valley Mortuary (defendants), to recoup harms for negligent performance of agreement, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and deceit he endured after discovering that the incinerated stays of Allen's brother were lost in travel from California to Illinois subsequently of respondents' carelessness in bundling and delivering the remaining parts. Therefore, Allen sought emotional distress and punitive damages. The trial court rejected Allen's objection since he neglected to argue "recognized damages." Allen appealed.

    Issue.

    In a breach of contract claim, harm recoverable for mental misery without physical damage for negligent mishandling of a corpse by a mortuary in California?

    Held.

    Yes. The damages for breach of contract are kept to those which emerge from the breach or which might have been sensibly predicted by the parties at the time of contract formation.

    Dissent.

    N/A

    Concurrence.

    N/A

    Discussion.

    As most contracts are based on some sort of commercial transaction it is rare that a breach would result in emotional or mental sufferings. The damages for mental distress or injury to reputation are typically not recoverable in an action for breach of contract but there are exceptions. For example, a contract in which a mortician agrees to prepare a deceased body for burial purpose is one in which a breach would cause mental distress to the relatives.

    As most contracts are based on some sort of commercial transaction it is rare that a breach would result in emotional or mental sufferings. The damages for mental distress or injury to reputation are typically not recoverable in an action for breach of contract but there are exceptions. For example a contract in which a mortician agrees to prepare a deceased body for burial is one in which a breach would cause mental distress to the relatives. In Chelini v. Nieri, 32 Cal. 2d 480 (Cal. 1948). a similar case to the one at bar, the court upheld a damage award of $10,000 to a plaintiff who suffered physical distress when a mortician breached a contract to preserve the body of plaintiff’s mother. The courts have been reluctant to award a plaintiff damages only on a tort claim of mental distress. Yet there are exceptions because of special circumstances. This exception has been codified in §868 of the Restatement of the Torts. In California, its public policy that mortuaries adhere to high standard of care to avoid any mental anguish to the family of the deceased. The trial court’s judgement of dismissing Allen’s negligent breach of contract claim is reversed and the matter is remanded for further proceedings.


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