What Are Civil Damages?

Civil damages are monetary awards owed to a winning plaintiff by the losing defendant in a civil case tried in a court of law. Civil damages can be compensatory, general, punitive, or any combination of these.

Compensatory damages include compensation for expenses such as medical bills, legal costs, loss of income, and costs associated with repairing or replacing damaged property. General damages include payment for nonfinancial damages, such as pain and suffering. Punitive damages include payment for losses caused by the gross negligence of a defendant.

Key Takeaways

  • Civil damages are monetary awards owed to a winning plaintiff by the losing defendant in a civil case tried in a court of law.
  • Civil damages can be compensatory, general, punitive, or any combination of these.
  • Civil damages are granted when a person is injured or suffers a loss that stems from the wrongful or negligent actions of another party.
  • Estimating liability in civil cases depends greatly on the type of damages.

Understanding Civil Damages

Civil damages are granted when a person is injured or suffers a loss that stems from the wrongful or negligent actions of another party. The intent of awarding civil damages is to grant plaintiffs resources that restore them to their conditions before their injuries.

A full restoration might not be possible because of the nature of the loss. The plaintiff may have suffered harm in terms of damages to personal property, physical injury, or the loss of support and opportunities.

Estimating Liability in Civil Cases

Estimating liability in civil cases depends greatly on the type of damages. Calculating compensatory damages is very straightforward because the damages claimed are equal to the plaintiff's costs. Legal fees are part of compensatory damages, which makes settlements desirable in many cases.

Although general damages are more difficult to predict, there is a large body of case law and precedents to help. Punitive damages are often the most challenging to estimate. Punitive damages could be much higher if the defendant engaged in willful or negligent misconduct. On the other hand, some states limit punitive damage awards. It is also much more difficult to prove punitive damages.

Estimating liability in civil cases depends greatly on the type of damages.

Instances Where Civil Damages May Be Sought

Employment

An individual might be a candidate for a new job that offers a higher paying salary. If another party acts to remove that opportunity unjustly, they could be held liable for civil damages. The offending actions could include making false statements about the candidate that eliminate them from consideration for the position. The lost salary could be sought as civil damages to be paid by the offender.

Home Repair

Civil damages can be sought for the loss of access to a property, such as a home or a vehicle. Let's say a contractor is performing renovations on a residence but causes damage to the house due to negligence. The homeowner could sue for civil damages for the additional repair work. If the homeowner was also forced to find lodging elsewhere because of the extent of the harm done to the property, the cost of finding other accommodations could be part of the civil charges.

Car Collision

A comparable situation could arise with repairs to a vehicle after a car crash. The plaintiff might sue to restore the car to its prior condition and also seek civil damages for costs associated with not having the vehicle. This can include fees paid for the use of rental cars, mass transit, or other transportation services. Additional damages might be sought if the plaintiff can prove that the loss of the vehicle also affected their ability to fulfill their work duties and earn income.