IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Embedded Options and the Case Against Compensation in Contract Law


  • Robert Scott

    (University of Virginia School of Law)

  • George Triantis

    (University of Virginia School of Law)


Despite the fact that compensation is the governing principle in contract law remedies, it has tenuous historical, economic and empirical support. A promisor's right to breach and pay damages (which is subject to the compensation principle) is only a subset of a larger family of termination rights that do not purport to compensate the promisee for losses suffered when the promisor walks away from the contemplated exchange. These termination rights can be characterized as embedded options that serve important risk management functions. We show that sellers often sell insurance to their buyers in the form of these embedded options. We explain why compensation is of little relevance to the option price agreed to by the parties, which is a function of the value of the option to the buyer, its cost to the seller and the market in which they transact. We thus propose a novel justification for why penalty liquidated damages may be higher than seller's costs: they are option prices that reflect the value of the options to the buyer. The regulation of liquidated damages is thus tantamount to price regulation, which is outside the realm of contract law. Moreover, in light of the heterogeneity among optimal option prices, we also make the case against having an expectation damages default rule to begin with. In thick markets, we argue for enforcing the parties ex ante risk allocation with market damages. In thin markets, we propose that parties be induced to agree explicitly with respect to all termination rights, including breach damages, by the threat of specific performance of their contemplated exchange or, in the case of consumers, by a default rule that provides them a termination option at no cost.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert Scott & George Triantis, "undated". "Embedded Options and the Case Against Compensation in Contract Law," University of Virginia John M. Olin Program for Law & Economics Working Paper Series uvalwps-1013, University of Virginia School of Law.
  • Handle: RePEc:bep:uvalwp:uvalwps-1013

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bep:uvalwp:uvalwps-1013. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.