The Questionable Ascent of Hadley v. Baxendale
The venerable case of Hadley v. Baxendale serves as the prototype for default rules designed to penalize, and thus encourage disclosure by, an undesirable contractual counterpart. Penalty-default analysis is now widely accepted as a plausible approach to the issues presented by incomplete contracts. The ambition of this article is to challenge and refine the accepted wisdom. The article demonstrates that the structure of penalty-default theory as derived from Hadley rests on a faulty implicit premise. The premise is that damages from breach of contract are certain. In fact, damages are stochastic. Consequently, the standard penalty-default model of Hadley overlooks the potential incentive of a party to conceal information even though the party is subject to a penalty-default rule. This incentive, which is shown to exist in other contexts, may greatly complicate the evaluation of a default ruleâ€™s efficacy. Thus, a lawmaker may have reason to be skeptical of her ability to identify an efficient penalty-default rule, the seeming simplicity of Hadley notwithstanding.
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