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I would like to know whether the opportunity cost of one's time being wasted can in any circumstances be considered a legal damage.

For instance, perhaps if you pay someone to provide a service, and they deliberately wait to provide that service, over an extended period of time.

I thank you for any answers in advance!

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  • The jurisdiction in question would matter as would other aspects of the context. There is no one general rule. The example you mention, furthermore, implicates contract law and not tort law.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 23, 2017 at 22:31

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The closest thing you will find this, I believe, is being awarded loss of profits. Under that concept, if you can reasonably prove the amount you would have earned during the period of time you were unable to earn it, you may be awarded that as damages. It's usually applied to a situation where you are injured by somebody's conduct and miss X amount of weeks of work. The court can then take what you earned in the X number of weeks prior to such injury and project out what you would have earned. This does not work with speculative profits, such as if you were just about to open your own business and then were injured. Thus, I believe if you're able to prove an individual purposely slow-played fulfilling a contract you relied upon and you can show what you would have earned had he not done so, you may be able to connect damages in that amount as a result. As always, consult an attorney before making any decisions on this. Good luck.

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Usually, a litigants own lost time will not be a compensable item of damages in legal systems derived from those of England called "common law" jurisdictions (including England, Ireland, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia), unless there is an contractual provision that provides that "time is of the essence" and some liquidated damages clause in the contract that quantifies this harm.

Usually, a litigants own lost time will not be compensable in a tort action.

But, while lost time is not compensable as a general rule, lost income (either from wages or profits) usually is compensable so long as it is foreseeably caused by the breach of a legal obligation, and is not merely speculative.

When money or property is withheld for some time period, there will also often be an element of pre-judgment interest that is calculated on top of the economic value of the harm as of the time of the breach, often at a statutory rate, although the law of pre-judgment interest varies quite a bit from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and is often allowed in contract lawsuits, but not in tort lawsuits.

Outside of these jurisdictions, there is further variation. One of the few instances in which lost personal time in breach of a promise is compensable of which I am aware is on a Japanese passenger rail line (including the equivalent of subways). There, passengers are entitled to a fixed amount of compensation automatically when the train fails to arrive on time (without regard to the individualized value of a person's time).

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