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Compensatory Damages Distinguished From Other Categories Of

As contrasted with the many different types of equitable remedies that
may be awarded in favor of a prevailing litigant, the plaintiff's primary
legal remedy is the recovery of a money judgment for damages. Money
damages are assessed against litigants for a variety of different reasons.
o Without question the most important reason for awarding money
damages in any litigated case is to compensate the injured party for
legally recognized actual harm or loss caused by the offending party.
These damages are known as compensatory damages.
o Damages can serve other purposes as well.
o For example, sometimes the actual monetary amount of a party's
damages cannot be determined or computed with any degree of
certainty, or the amount of the damages actually sustained may simply
be insignificant. Nevertheless, in these situations damages may still be
assessed in an appropriate case, if only to identify which party has
"prevailed" in the litigation. These damages are often referred to as
"nominal" damages, or damages in name only.

Damages may sometimes be designed to punish a defendant for some

particularly egregious type of misconduct, or to serve as a deterrent
against certain types of inappropriate behavior. In either of these
situations, damages are typically referred to as punitive, or exemplary

"General" vs. "Special" Damages

General damages may be defined simply as those damages that must
necessarily arise as the result of the defendant's legally actionable
conduct. They represent damages, which the law presumes to occur as a
necessary result of a particular claim or injury.

Conversely, special damages are those additional damages, which do in

fact also occur in a given situation.
o They are said to be special in the sense that they may but do not
necessarily have to occur at all.

Unlike special damages, general damages do not need to be specifically

pleaded in order to be recovered. Instead, the mere fact that the
defendant has committed some type of legally actionable conduct (or
omission) is sufficient alone to establish in fact the plaintiff's legal right to
a damage recovery.
o In this sense, general damages are presumed to arise from the very
existence of the plaintiff's cause of action itself.

Of course, even though general damages may be presumed to arise in a

given situation, a plaintiff who wishes to recover anything beyond merely
nominal damages still must prove some actual amount of the loss.
o Thus, in order to recover general damages the plaintiff need only prove
the amount of the loss, whereas to recover special damages both the
fact of damages as well as the amount of the loss must be specially
pleaded and specially proven.

Actual Damages
Use of the term actual damages with reference to specific damages
terminology is somewhat unfortunate, because it is often applied
indiscriminately to many different damages and damage-related contexts,
resulting in unnecessary confusion.
o For example, sometimes the term actual damages is used merely as a
reference to whatever harm results from a particular incident or
When used in this sense, the phrase actual damages really doesn't
have anything to do with the concept of damages at all. Instead, it
is simply a way of indicating the existence of the requisite causal
relationship between the claimed injury and the defendant's alleged
Stated differently, this use of the term actual damages is really
more akin to the notion of " cause in fact" than to anything related
to the question of money damages.

Another use of the term actual damages refers to all those types of
damages that can be proven with monetary specificity. When used in this
manner, actual damages is really just synonymous with the term
pecuniary damages. Again, this usage is unfortunate, because it fails to
include the various non-pecuniary damage components (for example,
"pain and suffering" damages or disability damages) that may also be
actually recoverable in many types of actions.

Finally, the term actual damages is sometimes used to refer simply to

those items of damages that may not be presumed to occur in any given
situation but which, instead, must be specifically pleaded and proven by
the plaintiff. When used in this very limited sense, the phrase actual
damages refers essentially to the same thing as special damages.