What is a Measure of Damages?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 28 May 2019
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Measure of damages is a determination of the amount of compensation available to a plaintiff in a civil case. In jurisdictions where people can sue for damages in civil matters, they are entitled to a fair and reasonable compensation. People can ask for a specific amount at trial and juries or judges can make a decision about how much to award on the basis of the specifics of the case, the type, and the guidance provided by the measure of damages.

The purpose of damages is to provide people with enough funds to cover a loss. While it is not possible to erase the loss, receiving an award of damages can help people pay for it and recover. When juries decide a defendant is legally responsible for the claim made by a plaintiff, they can award damages. In some cases, the measure of damages is simple; for example, people can be compensated for replacing something lost, stolen, or damaged by the defendant.


In other cases, the measure of damages can get more complex. With personal injury cases, part of the damages includes costs for medical expenses, ranging from emergency surgery to rehabilitation therapy. Likewise, people can request compensation to repay them for missed work, including future missed work in cases where injuries result in death or permanent disability. The damages must also consider pain and suffering, which are more difficult to value with monetary means. Considerations might include whether the plaintiff experiences chronic pain as a result of an accident, or requires ongoing psychological therapy to address suffering.

The monetary damages cannot be unreasonable, given the nature of the case and the situation. Juries must use the measure of damages to find out how much they can award, and they can adjust it accordingly. They may decide not to award the maximum available because of extenuating circumstances, for example. If the award is too high, the defendant can challenge it and may win, forcing lengthy court negotiations.

In some cases, judges can decide to go beyond the measure of damages for direct injuries, and apply punitive damages as well. The judge awards punitive damages with the specific goal of punishing the defendant, rather than providing compensation to the plaintiff. Punitive damages can serve as a warning to people considering similar activities, alerting them to the fact that in addition to paying for any injuries they may cause, they will also have to pay above and beyond at the will of the court.



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