Under former law, a depository bank's liability may extend to a corporate officer as a "customer" who has signed a check drawn on the bank when the bank dishonors the check signed by the corporate officer on behalf of the corporation. Parrett v. Platte Valley State Bank, 236 Neb. 139, 459 N.W.2d 371 (1990).
Under former law, a payor bank is liable to its customer for damages proximately caused by a wrongful dishonor. Berman v. United States Nat. Bank, 197 Neb. 268, 249 N.W.2d 187 (1976).
1. Subsection (a) states positively what has been assumed under the original article: That if a bank fails to honor a properly payable item it may be liable to its customer for wrongful dishonor. Under subsection (b) the payor bank's wrongful dishonor of an item gives rise to a statutory cause of action. Damages may include consequential damages. Confusion has resulted from the attempts of courts to reconcile the first and second sentences of former section 4-402. The second sentence implied that the bank was liable for some form of damages other than those proximately caused by the dishonor if the dishonor was other than by mistake. But nothing in the section described what these noncompensatory damages might be. Some courts have held that in distinguishing between mistaken dishonors and nonmistaken dishonors, the so-called "trader" rule has been retained that allowed a "merchant or trader" to recover substantial damages for wrongful dishonor without proof of damages actually suffered. Comment 3 to former section 4-402 indicated that this was not the intent of the drafters. White & Summers, Uniform Commercial Code, section 18-4 (1988), states: "The negative implication is that when wrongful dishonors occur not 'through mistake' but willfully, the court may impose damages greater than 'actual damages' .... Certainly the reference to 'mistake' in the second sentence of 4-402 invites a court to adopt the relevant pre-code distinction". Subsection (b) by deleting the reference to mistake in the second sentence precludes any inference that section 4-402 retains the "trader" rule. Whether a bank is liable for noncompensatory damages, such as punitive damages, must be decided by section 1-103 and section 1-106 ("by other rule of law").
2. Wrongful dishonor is different from "failure to exercise ordinary care in handling an item", and the measure of damages is that stated in this section, not that stated in section 4-103(e). By the same token, if a dishonor comes within this section, the measure of damages of this section applies and not another measure of damages. If the wrongful refusal of the beneficiary's bank to make funds available from a funds transfer causes the beneficiary's check to be dishonored, no specific guidance is given as to whether recovery is under this section or article 4A. In each case this issue must be viewed in its factual context, and it was thought unwise to seek to establish certainty at the cost of fairness.
3. The second and third sentences of subsection (b) reject decisions holding that as a matter of law the dishonor of a check is not the "proximate cause" of the arrest and prosecution of the customer and leave to determination in each case as a question of fact whether the dishonor is or may be the "proximate cause".
4. Banks commonly determine whether there are sufficient funds in an account to pay an item after the close of banking hours on the day of presentment when they post debit and credit items to the account. The determination is made on the basis of credits available for withdrawal as of right or made available for withdrawal by the bank as an accommodation to its customer. When it is determined that payment of the item would overdraw the account, the item may be returned at any time before the bank's midnight deadline the following day. Before the item is returned new credits that are withdrawable as of right may have been added to the account. Subsection (c) eliminates uncertainty under article 4 as to whether the failure to make a second determination before the item is returned on the day following presentment is a wrongful dishonor if new credits were added to the account on that day that would have covered the amount of the check.
5. Section 4-402 has been construed to preclude an action for wrongful dishonor by a plaintiff other than the bank's customer. Loucks v. Albuquerque National Bank, 418 P.2d 191 (N.Mex. 1966). Some courts have allowed a plaintiff other than the customer to sue when the customer is a business entity that is one and the same with the individual or individuals operating it. Murdaugh Volkswagen, Inc. v. First National Bank, 801 F.2d 719 (4th Cir. 1986) and Karsh v. American City Bank, 113 Cal.App.3d 419, 169 Cal.Rptr. 851 (1980). However, where the wrongful dishonor impugns the reputation of an operator of the business, the issue is not merely, as the court in Koger v. East First National Bank, 443 So.2d 141 (Fla.App. 1983), put it, one of a literal versus a liberal interpretation of section 4-402. Rather the issue is whether the statutory cause of action in section 4-402 displaces, in accordance with section 1-103, any cause of action that existed at common law in a person who is not the customer whose reputation was damaged. See Marcum v. Security Trust and Savings Co., 221 Ala. 419, 129 So.74 (1930). While section 4-402 should not be interpreted to displace the latter cause of action, the section itself gives no cause of action to other than a "customer", however that definition is construed, and thus confers no cause of action on the holder of a dishonored item. First American National Bank v. Commerce Union Bank, 692 S.W.2d 642 (Tenn.App. 1985).