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Special Damages (Legal Definition: All You Need To Know)

What are Special Damages?

What’s the difference between special damages vs general damages?

How does it work?

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s dig into our legal remedies knowledge!

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What Are Special Damages

Special damages (sometimes referred to as economic damages) are monetary awards granted by the court (judge or jury) to compensate the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit for economic losses.

When a person suffers damages in contract or tort, he or she may seek compensatory damages from the at-fault party which includes special damages and general damages.

Special damages are economic losses (or any quantifiable financial loss) can include things like:

  • Loss of earnings
  • Lost wages 
  • Property damage
  • Medical expenses
  • Repair costs
  • Replacement costs 
  • Additional out-of-pocket costs
  • Loss of irreplaceable items 
  • Personal care costs 

For example, in a personal injury lawsuit (like a car accident), if the defendant totaled the plaintiff’s car, he or she can be held liable for the market value of the car.

This is considered a “special” damage as it is easily quantifiable (such as using the Kelley Blue Book or value of the same car online) and is intended to make the plaintiff whole again by replacing the lost property (the car).

Special damages in turn can be classified in two parts:

  • Incidental damages 
  • Consequential losses 

Incidental damages are the costs incurred by someone to deal with another’s wrongdoing such as repairing or replacing damaged property.

Consequential losses are damages the plaintiff is entitled to as a consequence or due to the defendant’s fault such as lost profits or earnings due to the plaintiff’s inability to use the damaged property.

Special Damages Definition

Special damages are awarded to a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit to compensate him or her for quantifiable monetary losses.

According to the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, citing the definition of special damages from Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary, special damages are defined:

Damages that compensate the plaintiff for quantifiable monetary losses such as medical bills and the cost to repair damaged property (direct losses) and lost earnings (consequential damages).

In other words, “special damages” are quantifiable losses proven in court by the plaintiff due to the defendant’s wrongdoing or behavior.

Types of Special Damages

Depending on the nature of a lawsuit, there may be different types of special damages awarded.

For example, special damages in contract law may be lost revenues, lost earnings, or lost opportunities whereas special damages in tort law may include lost wages and medical expenses.

Let’s take a personal injury case and see what type of special damages may be awarded.

Typically, in a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff may seek to recover the following “special” damage:

  • Loss of earnings
  • Loss of irreplaceable items 
  • Lost wages 
  • Medical expenses
  • Out-of-pocket costs
  • Personal care costs 
  • Property damage
  • Repair costs
  • Replacement costs 

Calculating special damages is not difficult as they are quantifiable in an exact dollar amount.

For example, Mary causes damage to John’s property due to her negligence.

John suffers a loss of $1,000 to have to repair the property.

Mary can be held legally liable to provide John special compensatory damage in the amount of $1,000 that John can prove by producing the invoice from the repair shop.

Special vs General Damages

Special damages represent economic damages that are easily quantifiable whereas general damages are non-economic damages such as pain, suffering, and emotional distress.

“Special damages” are easily measurable in dollar value.

For example, a negligent driver causes an accident and damages another’s car.

The repair costs amount to $2,000.

That’s a quantifiable special damage as you can prove the repair costs by submitting the invoice and your statement of account showing the payment was made.

“General damages” are intangible and non-monetary losses that are not easily determined in dollars and cents.

For instance, general damages can include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of consortium
  • Disfigurement 

Typically, general damages are more difficult to calculate and each jurisdiction may have its own method or formula to determine the reasonable general damages.

Special Damages In Contract

When parties are part of a legally binding contract, they must respect their legal obligations, failure of which may cause damages to the other party.

When a contracting party does not respect its legal obligations, there may be a breach of contract.

As a result of the breach, the non-breaching party may suffer harm that can include special damages.

For example, a restaurant owner hires a construction company to build a restaurant.

Due to the construction company’s negligence and breach of contract, the restaurant is not built on time and can only open six months after the intended opening date.

The restaurant owner can claim special damages to cover six months of lost revenues due to the other party’s breach.

In contract law, special damages may be awarded to compensate income lost due to a delay or cancellation, compensate for a company’s loss of goodwill, or even lost opportunities.

Special Compensatory Damages Takeaways 

So, what are special damages in personal injury?

What is the special damage legal definition?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Define Special Damages

  • Special damages are losses awarded in a lawsuit compensating a person for injuries suffered due to another’s breach of contract, negligence, or wrongful act
  • It can include medical bills, repair costs, replacement of property, loss of wages, loss of earnings and other tangible and quantifiable losses 
  • Special losses are easy to calculate and quantify as they are tangible financial losses 
  • Compensatory damages include special damages and general damages where they are both awarded to make the plaintiff whole again 
Breach of duty 
Burden of proof 
Contributory negligence 
Malicious prosecution 
Moving party
Nominal damages 
Product liability 
Tortious interference 
Vicarious liability
Bicycle accidents 
Car accident 
Duty of care 
General damages
Medical malpractice
Motorcycle accidents
Pedestrian accidents
Product defects 
Slip and fall accidents
Tort damages 
Trucking accident

Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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