Damages, an award of money that a court of law requires be given to one who has suffered a loss, injury, or invasion of a legal right (as when one party to a contract does not fulfill its obligations) as a result of the act of another.
Damages may be compensatory or punitive. Compensatory damages, the most usual type, are intended to place the injured party in the position the person would have occupied if no injury had occurred. For example, someone who has been wronged by the failure to meet the terms of a contract is awarded as damages a sum equal to the amount that would have been earned if no breach had occurred. In accident cases arising from negligence, the theory is that the damages compensate for the more or less measurable elements of loss. These include medical expenses and impaired earning capacity, but also the intrinsically immeasurable element of pain and suffering. Alternatively, compensatory damages may be trivial or nominal, to indicate disapproval of an action, such as trespass, from which no damage actually results. Punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer by obligating him or her to pay a sum in addition to a number of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff for harm done. Provision for double or treble damages is usually embodied in statutes. Punitive damages are allowed in only a few types of legal actions, including those for libel and slander.