General Damages Definition

The general damages definition is a monetary award that is provided to a plaintiff (or, wronged party) who has experienced loss, pain, or hardship due to someone else’s wrongdoing (this part is typically the defendant in such cases). The purpose of awarded damages is to attempt to restore the wronged or injured party to a position they had been in prior to any wrongdoing. Reasons as to why such damages may be awarded include:

  • Breach of contract
  • Personal injury
  • Wrongful death
  • Medical malpractice

Types of Damages

Typically, there are three categories of damages that may be awarded.

  • General damages are compensatory and provide the plaintiff with monies to account for any pain, suffering, or financial loss that came about as the result of being harmed.
  • Special damages are also compensatory and serve the same purpose as general damages. Special damages are asked for, and awarded, in addition to the aforementioned general damages. For example, someone who has been injured in an accident may seek general damages to cover medical costs and any loss of income due to not being able to work. They may also then seek special damages to cover costs of things like ongoing psychiatric care.
  • Punitive damages, which are also known as exemplary damages, deter the defendant (or, the party in the wrong) from acting in the same manner, in the future, while issuing further punishment for the current wrongdoing. These damages may be awarded in a civil lawsuit if the act of the defendant was intentionally malicious. For example, a car accident that occurred as the result of not paying attention, one that was genuinely an accident, may not have punitive damages attached to it. However, if it is determined that the defendant willfully drove the plaintiff off the road, causing the accident, then punitive damages may be awarded.

Additional Information on Damages

Within the scope of damages that may be awarded, there is also pecuniary loss. This is typically related solely to monetary loss and is generally quite straightforward.

  • Expectation damages: As it pertains to a breach of contract case, the monies awarded to the plaintiff cover whatever losses resulted from the aforementioned breach. For example, if a wedding photographer is paid to photograph a wedding and either does not show up or never provides the bride and groom with the photographs, the photographer may be expected to repay any monies that had been paid to them in advance, or whatever the typical rate is for hiring a wedding photographer in that area. In cases involving expectation damages, the calculation of what is awarded to the plaintiff is based on the contract itself or market value.
  • Consequential damages: This may be awarded to a plaintiff when any loss suffered is not a direct result of the defendant’s wrongdoing, but ultimately result from the actions of the party this is in the wrong. For example, if the plaintiff suffers from ongoing posttraumatic stress disorder resulting from a car accident, the defendant may be required to pay consequential damages to allow for ongoing psychological care for the plaintiff.

Additionally, there are aggravated damages, nominal damages and restitutionary damages.

  • Aggravated damages will generally increase the amount awarded to the plaintiff as they are provided for additional pain and suffering that may be experienced as a result of the original act of wrongdoing. For example, if a car accident results in long-term, ongoing issues of anxiety, PTSD, or depression on the part of the plaintiff, then aggravated damages may be awarded. Additionally, aggravated damages are meant to only be compensatory and not punitive, and therefore can only be awarded for that purpose.
  • Nominal damages are generally smaller in size and exist to provide a plaintiff with some type of financial restitution, even when it may be difficult to prove that there was any loss of income resulting from the wrongdoing of the defendant. For example, nominal damages may be awarded if an individual (a private citizen) was having their photo taken without their knowledge and then those photos were posted on the internet. While the acts of the defendant may not have caused a monetary loss to the plaintiff, nominal damages may still be awarded as their rights to privacy were violated.
  • Restitutionary damages are awarded to provide an equitable remedy to a situation. For example, if a party refuses to pay for services rendered, the plaintiff may seek restitutionary damages in order to be paid the money they are owed.

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