Hair Piece

Originally appeared in the May 2001 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

Hair Piece


What’s so funny about a hairy hand? That’s what I set out to investigate after several requests for a column about Hawkins v. McGee, 146 A. 641 (N.H. 1929), better known as “the hairy hand case.”

Hawkins was a contracts case in which the defendant doctor guaranteed plaintiff, a young man with a burned hand, “a hundred per cent [sic] perfect hand” if he would let the doctor perform surgery on him. Instead of a perfect hand, plaintiff ended up with one that grew thick hair, apparently because of a skin graft from his chest.

I conducted a scientific poll to determine exactly why Hawkins is so funny to lawyers. After months of investigation, the only statistically valid answer turned out to be: “I don’t know. There’s just something funny about a hairy hand.”

The survey respondents added their opinions: (1) that a hairy gallbladder also would be funny; (2) that a hairy eyeball would be odd, but not necessarily funny, and, in fact, could create a driving hazard; (3) that “hairy hips” sounds funny, but would actually be pretty disgusting; and (4) that hairy teeth would require difficult choices between hygiene and style.

Still in search of something really funny about Hawkins, I delved into the case itself. The issue was one of damages. The court ruled that the damages for the botched operation should be the difference in value between a hairy hand and a good one.

How much is a hairy hand worth? That sounds funny. See what you think, in this real FAKE excerpt from the court’s …


What is the difference in value between a hairy hand and a good hand? The issue can be resolved only by careful evaluation of the relative burdens and benefits.

It is beyond dispute that a hairy hand carries substantial burdens. Haircut costs, already high, would double. Even finding a hand salon could prove difficult. And how does one style a hairy hand? Blunt cut? Shag? Dreadlocks?

The court takes judicial notice that a “bad hair day” can cause severe emotional distress. Must plaintiff now suffer the trauma of a “bad hand-hair day”as well?

Finally, we would be remiss to ignore the embarrassment plaintiff will suffer from the tactless stares and inquiries of those who would question whether he is master of his domain.

But defendant asserts that against these burdens must be weighed the many values of a hairy hand.

First, he contends plaintiff will be able to wash his car without a mitt. While that would be convenient, plaintiff presented expert testimony that it is only 1929 and he doesn’t own a car.

Defendant next argues plaintiff can save money in winter buying fur gloves; however, this argument is based on the speculation that plaintiff will be successful both in locating and befriending an opposite-handed victim of hairy-skin-graft malpractice to split the cost of a pair of gloves.

Defendant also notes plaintiff can pretend the hand is a tarantula and use it to scare people at parties. However, we believe this joke would get old fast and do not consider it a long term benefit.

Defendant’s strongest argument is that there is something intrinsically funny about a hairy hand. While we agree, we nevertheless enter:

Judgment for plaintiff.

Note: This parody is not about the real plaintiff in Hawkins, who suffered genuine hardship.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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