To define damages in law is to cite the harm or loss that results from injury to a property, individual or reputation. Damages, however, is the compensation provided to a person or entity that has suffered harm or loss due to the omission or action of another. The party at fault (i.e. person(s) who caused harm or loss) must pay/compensate the injured party for the loss.

This is a very important legal concept because one party must suffer damage before damages can be paid. Take, for instance, a situation involving a breach of contract. Stan contracted with Joe to purchase his boat for $400; however, Joe decides not to sell his boat to Stan and instead offers him an even better boat for the same price.

In this case, Stan has suffered a contract breach; however, no financial damage (harm or loss) was sustained. Therefore, he cannot sue Joe in court and collect damages for the breach of contract.

Damages Versus Cost

Damages try to quantify in financial terms the extent of harm suffered by a plaintiff due to the actions of the defendant. Damages should be differentiated from costs, which refer to the total expenses incurred due to the filing of a lawsuit. In some cases, the court orders the losing party to pay the winning party the cost of the lawsuit.

Damages Versus Verdicts

Damages are also different from verdicts, which are the final decisions handed out by a jury. Damages are meant to restore the injured parties to the de facto position they were in before they suffered harm. Consequently, damages are regarded as remedial measures rather than punitive or preventive, although punitive damages can be awarded for certain kinds of wrongful conduct.

Difficulty in Proving Damages

Before a party can be awarded damages, the party must have sustained harm/injury and the injury must be one that is recognized by the law as needing redress.

In personal injury cases, it is important to be able to prove damages; however, this can be difficult, especially in cases involving medical malpractice where the physician missed the symptoms of an illness, thereby causing harm.

The plaintiff must prove that the negligence on the physician's part was the reason for the harm suffered by the other party. If the doctor successfully argues that the illness itself would have caused the extent of damage being experienced by the plaintiff, even if it was properly diagnosed, then the law will not view the plaintiff as having suffered any actual damage. In such a scenario, no damages will be awarded to the plaintiff, even if the physician was negligent.

Why Civil Lawsuits Are Filed

Most civil lawsuits are filed because the plaintiff is seeking for some form of compensation for harm/loss suffered at the hands of the defendant. This compensation can come in various forms; however, the most common form is monetary. To determine how much a lawsuit is worth, the plaintiff must be conversant with and fully understand the kinds of damages that a court recognizes.

Types of Damages

Generally, compensatory damages are the most concrete and identifiable types of monetary damages and they include an amount for:

  • Property damage.
  • Lost income.
  • Medical care.

This form of compensation is aimed at compensating the injured party for injury or loss. It is meant to restore the losses suffered by the plaintiff due to the wrongful conduct of the defendant.

Based on the extent of injuries done to the plaintiff's property or person, an attorney can use the documents obtained during litigation to seek a definite amount of compensatory damages. With respect to this form of compensation, the defendant is liable to the plaintiff for any and all consequences resulting from the defendant's wrongful action.

Consequential damages may be awarded to the plaintiff when the loss suffered is not caused by the direct action of the defendant but from its resultant effect.

The measure of damages must be tangible, though it may be difficult to fix an amount with certainty, particularly in situations involving claims for emotional distress, pain, and suffering. When assessing the amount of damages to be awarded, the jury or judge must exercise common sense and good judgment. This good judgment should be based on general experience as well as knowledge of social affairs and economics.

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