Actual damages refer to the financial amount that is paid to a victim that suffered loss that can be calculated. Actual damages are often known as real damages or, legally, as compensatory damages. These are damages that arose from the neglect or mistake of another party.

Important Components of Actual Damages

Compensatory damages, or damages that are payable, should be measurable and can be proven. A few examples of payable actual damages include:

  • Loss of income
  • Medical expenses
  • Property repairs
  • Business losses
  • Legal fees

It can be difficult to prove actual damages in a family law case. Although some states do allow for actual damages to be recouped when one parent is the cause of measurable loss to the other, specific proof of documentation is required in these cases. The actual damages are only paid out if the judge deems the costs payable by the person who is responsible for the loss. The payout amount will usually not be the requested amount, but instead, the judge will also determine the exact amount of the actual damages occurred.

Evidence Needed for Actual Damages

Actual damages that are paid out are often easily provable. The following types of evidence are acceptable as documentation:

  • Receipts for medical care received
  • Receipts of hospital visits
  • Receipts of medical equipment purchased
  • Receipts for equipment repairs
  • Receipts for vehicle repairs
  • Bills for intended repairs
  • Bills for expected medical procedures
  • Paycheck stubs for loss of income
  • Receipts for needed in-home medical care
  • Receipts for home services required due to an injury

Every damage case is unique, so it is important that the plaintiff provide the type of measurable documentation that best supports their individual legal case. Documentation that works for one case may not be ideal for another one.

Actual Damages for Pain and Suffering

The amount of pain and suffering incurred is also considered a payable damage. These are often known as hedonic damages, and they include pain and suffering in terms of emotional and mental health. This amount can be difficult to calculate in measurable terms. However, the following pieces of evidence can be used to prove evidence of pain and suffering:

  • Testimony of the plaintiff
  • Testimony of the plaintiff's family and friends
  • A medical physician's or therapist's testimony

Pain and suffering damages are often based on a person's difficult to adapt to everyday life after a serious injury. Actual damages in terms of pain and suffering might also include damages paid to the plaintiff's family members.

  • Loss of consortium: This occurs when the spouse also suffers from the injury of the plaintiff. This might include emotional and physical intimacy, loss of assistance around the house and with childcare duties, and a loss of emotional guidance.
  • Loss of guidance and care: This occurs when children suffer from the injury or death of a parent or their primary caregiver. This might include the emotional loss of losing the care of a parent or caregiver or the actual parenting duties the parent can no longer perform.

Other Types of Damages

It is important to keep in mind that actual damages are not punitive, nominal, or statutory damages. It is possible that a legal case could include compensation from all components of these payable areas. 

  • Punitive damages: Punitive damages, in comparison to actual damages, are a form of a legal consequence. They are damages that are ordered to the defendant in an attempt to punish them for their damaging behavior and to prevent it from occurring again in the future. 
  • Statutory damages: Statutory damages are set by law and are standard payments set for injury, loss, or a civil violation. These pre-set damage amounts can speed up the legal process and are a great option when a plaintiff does not have a ton of provable documentation. They are common in cases of intellectual or copyright law, violations of public policy, and in cases of tax evasion.
  • Nominal damages: Nominal damages are minimal compensatory payments that are paid when there were no significant injuries sustained. Nominal damages place the legal blame on the defendant and recognize that although no real harm was done,  property damage or injury was possible.

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