Suing for the Engagement Ring

By Michael F. Callahan

Mr. Dockendorf gave Ms. McGrath a two carat diamond engagement ring valued at $26,000 when he proposed.   Alas, the engagement was broken off and the marriage never occurred.

Dockendorf sued for return of the ring or its value.  McGrath moved to dismiss the suit contending the suit was barred by  Va. Code sec 8.01-220 which prohibits suits to recover damages for breach of promise to marry.

The Circuit Court held for Dockendorf and the Supreme Court affirmed.   The Court explained that the plain meaning of the words of the statute did not bar a suit to recover a gift made on the condition of marriage if that condition failed.  The statute barred actions for general  damages caused by the breach itself — injury to the affection and wounded pride, loss of opportunity, impaired prospect of marrying another, etc.

The Court did not discuss it, but the result was good for the diamond industry.  A prudent suitor might hesitate to spend big on an engagement ring if he could not recover the ring if his intended broke off the engagement — without throwing the ring at him in the process.

McGrath v. Dockendorf (2016)