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At Common Law

15 January, 2016 - 09:33

Another limitation on remedies—at common law—is the concept ofelection of remedies. The nature of a loss resulting from a contract breach may be such as to entitle one party to a choice among two or more means to redress the grievance, where the choices are mutually exclusive.

At classic common law, a person who was defrauded had an election of remedies: she could, immediately upon discovering the fraud, rescind, or she could retain the item (real estate or personal property) and attempt to remedy the fraudulently defective performance by suing for damages, but not both. Buyer purchases real estate from Seller for $300,000 and shortly discovers that Seller fraudulently misrepresented the availability of water. Buyer spends $60,000 trying to drill wells. Finally he gives up and sues Seller for fraud, seeking $360,000. Traditionally at common law, he would not get it. He should have rescinded upon discovery of the fraud. Now he can only get $60,000 in damages in tort. 1The purpose of the election of remedies doctrine is to prevent the victim of fraud from getting a double recovery, but it has come under increasing criticism. Here is one court’s observation: “A host of commentators support elimination of the election of remedies doctrine. A common theme is that the doctrine substitutes labels and formalism for inquiry into whether double recovery results in fact. The rigid doctrine goes to the other extreme, actually resulting in the under compensation of fraud victims and the protection of undeserving wrongdoers.” 2