DEFINITION of Civil Damages

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


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

Civil damages are granted in instances where a person has been injured in some fashion or suffered a loss that stems from the wrongful or negligent actions of another party. The intent of awarding civil damages is to grant a plaintiff resources that restores them to the condition prior to the occurrence of the injury. A full restoration might not possible because of the nature of the loss. The plaintiff may have been harmed in terms of damages to personal property, physical injury or the loss of support and opportunities.

Instances Where Civil Damages May Be Sought

An individual might be a candidate for a new job that offers a higher paying salary. If another party acts to unjustly remove that opportunity, 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 potential salary could be sought as civil damages to be paid by the offender.

Civil damages can be sought for the loss of access to property such as a home or a vehicle. Let’s say a contractor is performing renovations on a residence but causes damage to the home 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 included in the civil charges.

A comparable situation could arise with repairs to a vehicle after a car accident. The plaintiff might not only sue to restore the vehicle to its prior condition but could also seek civil damages for costs associated with being without their vehicle. This can include fees paid for the use of rental vehicles, car services or mass transit. Additional damages might be sought if the plaintiff can prove the loss of the vehicle also affected their ability to fulfill their work duties and earn income.