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What is the Legal Definition of Damages?

Before monetary systems were in place, legal restitution for wrongful acts was brutal and barbaric. The phrase “eye for an eye” was not a poetic or metaphoric statement; it was literal. Unrepentant thieves would end up losing their hands, and people who caused injury would often receive the same injury in return. When money and financial systems were established, the law changed in favor of a compensatory system, meaning that plaintiffs or victims would be paid an award to help them recoup some of their financial losses, and only in rare instances, when a defendant acted intentionally or egregiously, would they be punished beyond provable damages. However, these punishments remain financial and are called punitive. While the days of physical and retaliatory penalties are a thing of the past in most parts of the world, people still struggle to understand damages and how they work, but when viewed through specific legal lenses, it becomes apparent.

Contract and Tort Law

Contract and tort law look at damages in terms of an obligation. For example, when two parties enter into an agreement, there is a promise of duty, an expectation of action and some form of compensation or award. In tort law, the contract or agreement is not a physical document, but rather an obligation or duty set forth by law. In both instances, damages are awarded as compensation to make good on the inflicted injuries caused by the breach of duty.

Personal Injury Claims

Personal injury claims tend to encompass negligence as the main grounds. Mainly, a plaintiff will need to argue and prove that the defendant had a duty to act in accordance with the law but failed to do so, resulting in their injuries and costing them financially. If a plaintiff can prove duty, breach, causation and damages, then they may receive compensation for their losses.

Damages in Personal Injury Claims

Damages in personal injury claims can be broken down into three categories: (1) compensatory, (2) general and (3) punitive. Compensatory damages are based on tangible and provable losses, like medical expenses and property damage. General damages focus more on the abstract losses, like pain and suffering, mental anguish and loss of consortium. Punitive damages are only awarded when intent or egregious action is proven.

While most legal systems throughout the world no longer practice the “eye for an eye” approach to damages, the current laws are still not perfect. Therefore, if you are considering filing a personal injury claim, then contact a personal injury lawyer in Bloomington, IL and ask for help.


Thanks to Pioletti, Pioletti & Nichols for their insight into personal injury claims and damages.

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