Money that a defendant pays a plaintiff in a civil case if the plaintiff has won. Damages may be compensatory (for loss or injury) or punitive (to punish and deter future misconduct).

Lawyer Advertising Toll Free Numbers

Additional Sources


Monetary compensation that is awarded by a court in a civil action to an individual who has been injured through the wrongful conduct of another party.

Damages attempt to measure in financial terms the extent of harm a plaintiff has suffered because of a defendant's actions. Damages are distinguishable from costs, which are the expenses incurred as a result of bringing a lawsuit and which the court may order the losing party to pay. Damages also differ from the verdict, which is the final decision issued by a jury.

The purpose of damages is to restore an injured party to the position the party was in before being harmed. As a result, damages are generally regarded as remedial rather than preventive or punitive. However, punitive damages may be awarded for particular types of wrongful conduct. Before an individual can recover damages, the injury suffered must be one recognized by law as warranting redress and must have actually been sustained by the individual.

Three major categories of damages are recognized: compensatory, which are intended to restore what a plaintiff has lost as a result of a defendant's wrongful conduct; nominal, which consist of a small sum awarded to a plaintiff who has suffered no substantial loss or injury but has nevertheless experienced an invasion of rights; and punitive, which are awarded not to compensate a plaintiff for injury suffered but to penalize a defendant for particularly egregious, wrongful conduct. In specific situations, two other forms of damages may be awarded: treble and liquidated.

Duhaime Legal Dictionary

A cash compensation ordered by a court to offset losses or suffering caused by another’s fault or negligence.

Encyclopedia Britannica

In law, money compensation for loss or injury caused by the wrongful act of another. Recovery of damages is the objective of most civil litigation.

Originally redress of wrongs was direct—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The introduction of monetary systems and dissatisfaction with the inequities of this vengeful redress led to settling disputes by awarding money damages. Today the concept is present in virtually every body of law. Although there was a developed system of monetary compensation for wrongs in Roman law and although the remedy appeared early in the development of English law and became the primary remedy of the common-law courts, the growth of the modern law of damages is a function in large part of the importance of the jury in Anglo-American legal procedure. In the United States particularly, a body of legal doctrine has developed around such issues as how evidence may be submitted to a jury, how a judge may instruct a jury on the law, and what damages a jury may award for particular wrongs.

Damages are generally awarded under contract and tort law. When one party to a contract fails to perform his obligation, the other can seek damages under three headings: (1) restitution, which restores to him whatever goods, services, or money he has given the breaching party, (2) expectation, which rewards him as if the contract had been fully performed (this includes profits anticipated on the contract), and (3) reliance, which gives him compensation for expenditures made or liabilities incurred “in reliance on” the contract’s being performed. Reliance damages are limited to consequences that are reasonably foreseeable by the parties at the time that they contracted. These remedies can be invoked in various combinations, as long as the aggrieved party is not left better off than if the breach had not occurred.

Under tort law, the measure of compensation is usually the money value of any losses or injuries sustained as a “natural and proximate” result of the wrongful act (e.g., negligently causing an automobile accident). Exactly what losses or injuries are “natural and proximate” results is often very difficult to determine. Usually no damages for speculative items—such as profits—can be recovered.

The personal-injury action (e.g., one arising out of an automobile accident) exemplifies the kind of litigation for which damages are awarded. The elements of recovery that can be considered in such an action include the loss of time as a result of the injury (frequently measured by the loss of wages that has occurred), the amount that has been expended for medical services, and a sum designed to compensate the injured person for the pain and suffering that has resulted from the injury. Because only one award is made in a common-law system for an injury resulting from a single wrongful act, it is necessary also to include in this award the damages that will occur in the future as a result of the injury. These future losses, though obviously speculative, usually can include the loss of earning capacity, the reasonable cost of the medical services that the injured person will incur, and the future suffering that the injured person is reasonably certain to undergo.

The theory of an award of damages in a personal-injury or other tort case is that the injured party should be placed in the position he would have been in if the injury had not occurred, so far as this can be done with a monetary award. The possibility of achieving this goal is obviously far greater where the injury has been to a property interest rather than to the person. Where the legal wrong sued for is the breach of a contract, the theoretical end of the damages remedy is to give the injured contracting party the benefit of his bargain by putting him in the position he would have enjoyed if the contract had been performed. Applied, for example, to a contract to build a house which has been breached by the owner, this formula would give the builder the contract price less what it would cost to finish building the house.

In addition to damages that are designed to compensate directly for loss suffered, other items may be recovered. Interest on money damages is frequently awarded on the reasoning that, when a sum of money is adjudged appropriate compensation as of a particular date, further loss occurs when the amount is not received until later. In some jurisdictions attorney fees are also recoverable. If the wrongful conduct that caused the loss is especially reckless or malicious, the court may award punitive (also called exemplary) damages in addition to compensatory damages, in order to express society’s moral disapproval of the wrongdoer.


The money awarded to a party in a civil suit as reparation for the loss or injury for which another is liable.

Law.com Dictionary

The amount of money which a plaintiff (the person suing) may be awarded in a lawsuit. There are many types of damages. Special damages are those which actually were caused by the injury and include medical and hospital bills, ambulance charges, loss of wages, property repair or replacement costs or loss of money due on a contract. The second basic area of damages are general damages, which are presumed to be a result of the other party's actions, but are subjective both in nature and determination of value of damages. These include pain and suffering, future problems and crippling effect of an injury, loss of ability to perform various acts, shortening of life span, mental anguish, loss of companionship, loss of reputation (in a libel suit, for example), humiliation from scars, loss of anticipated business and other harm. The third major form of damage is exemplary (or punitive) damages, which combines punishment and the setting of public example. Exemplary damages may be awarded when the defendant acted in a malicious, violent, oppressive, fraudulent, wanton or grossly reckless way in causing the special and general damages to the plaintiff. On occasion punitive damages can be greater than the actual damages, as, for example, in a sexual harassment case or fraudulent schemes. Although often asked for, they are seldom awarded. Nominal damages are those given when the actual harm is minor and an award is warranted under the circumstances. The most famous case was when Winston Churchill was awarded a shilling (about 25 cents) against author Louis Adamic, who had written that the British Prime Minister had been drunk at a dinner at the White House. Liquidated damages are those pre-set by the parties in a contract to be awarded in case one party defaults as in breach of contract.

Lect Law Library

The loss caused by one person to another or to his property, either with the design of injuring him, with negligence and carelessness, or by inevitable accident. The loss which some one has sustained, and the gain which he has failed to make.

He who has caused the damage is bound to repair it and, if he has done it maliciously, he may be compelled to pay beyond the actual loss. When damage occurs by accident, without blame to anyone, the loss is borne by the owner of the thing injured; e.g., if a horse run away with his rider, without any fault of the latter, and injures the property of another person, the injury is the loss of the owner of the thing. When the damage happens by the act of God or inevitable accident, e.g., by tempest, earthquake or other natural cause, the loss must be borne by the owner.


The money which is sought from a defendant by a plaintiff in a lawsuit, and which is awarded to the plaintiff as a remedy for some injury or wrongdoing.