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What are Damages?

Updated on January 23, 2010

Damages, the most common remedy for a civil wrong. In English law, for breach of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, whether imposed by the law (see tort) or arising under a contract between the parties, the plaintiff may be awarded a sum of money as compensation.

Damages may be either 'special' or 'general'. Special damages are those which can be precisely claimed, for example, present loss of earnings, or the cost of repairs. General damages are those which have to be assessed as, for example, for loss of reputation, for pain and suffering, for disablement, for future losses, or for shortening of expectation of life. The general rule is that a person may only recover damages to compensate him for" his actual loss, whether that can be precisely assessed or some figure has to be assigned to it as an estimate. Damages are intended to be compensatory, not punitive, however outrageous the conduct of the defendant; but punitive or exemplary damages may be awarded in a few special situations. For a mere technical wrong unaccompanied by any actual loss, purely nominal damages only will be awarded.


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