Types of Damages Awarded in Lawsuits
Last Updated: October 21, 2017
Civil law deals with disputes between individuals, as opposed to criminal law which deals with a crime and legal punishment as a result of a criminal offense. Lawsuits are filed in civil law and damages are awarded to a person as compensation for a loss or injury.
A person or company can sue another person or company for damages as set forth in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA allows someone to sue for "actual damages" which arise due to actions taken by a collection agency. Another term for actual damages is compensatory damages. There are other kinds of damages which can be awarded in these types of cases.
Compensatory damages, also referred to as actual damages, is money that covers the actual injury or economic loss. Compensatory damages are intended to put the injured party in the position he was in prior to the injury. Compensatory damages typically include medical expenses, lost wages and the repair or replacement of property.
General damages are intended to cover injuries for which an exact dollar amount cannot be calculated. General damages are usually composed of pain and suffering, but can also include compensation for a shortened life expectancy, loss of the companionship of a loved one and, in defamation cases (libel and slander), loss of reputation.
Nominal damages is a term used when a judge or jury finds in favor of one party to a lawsuit — often because a law requires them to do so — but concludes that no real harm was done and therefore awards a very small amount of money. For example, if one neighbor sues another for libel based on untrue things the second neighbor said about the first, a jury might conclude that although libel technically occurred, no serious damage was done to the first neighbor's reputation and consequentially award nominal damages of a dollar.
Punitive damages are sometimes called exemplary damages, awarded over and above special and general damages to punish a losing party's willful or malicious misconduct. Punitive damages are not awarded in order to compensate the Plaintiff, but in order to reform or deter the Defendant and similar persons from pursuing a course of action such as that which damaged the Plaintiff.
Special damages is an award that covers the winning party's out-of-pocket costs. For example, in a vehicle accident, special damages typically include medical expenses, car repair costs, rental car fees and lost wages.
Statutory damages are required by statutory law. For example, in many states if a landlord doesn't return a tenant's security deposit in a timely fashion or give a reason why it is being withheld, the state statutes give the judge authority to order the landlord to pay damages of double or triple the amount of the deposit.
Treble damages are lawyer speak for triple damages. To penalize lawbreakers, statutes occasionally give judges the power to award the winning party in a civil lawsuit the amount it lost as a result of the other party's illegal conduct, plus damages of three times that amount.
Please note: WE ARE NOT ATTORNEYS. If you are being sued, it's always a good idea to hire an attorney or get some legal assistance. If you cannot afford an attorney, a lot of people have handled their cases pro per or without a lawyer. Our articles are meant to provide basic information on handling litigation.