Damages, in law, a sum of money awarded by a court in recompense for a loss or wrong. Damages are paid by a wrongdoer to a person (or organization) for injury suffered through an unlawful act, omission of an act, or negligence of the wrongdoer. The injury may be to the injured party personally or to the property, reputation, or legal rights of the injured party. Personal injury includes mental as well as physical suffering and loss. The injured party brings suit against the wrongdoer for damages. The right to sue for damages was broadened in the late 1960's when several states decided that victims of violent crime may sue the state on the grounds that it failed to protect them.
There are several categories of damages:
are awarded for actual injury or loss. In personal injury cases, for example, they are based on such considerations as medical expenses, present and future income loss, and suffering.
are awarded as a punishment for malicious wrongdoing. Sometimes punitive damages are awarded in addition to compensatory damages; sometimes they are granted even when the plaintiff can show no actual injury. Such damages may be awarded for injuries to family relations, such as alienation of affection, or for injuries to reputation by libel.
are trivial awards (perhaps a few cents) when the actual loss is very slight. But the loser usually must pay the legal costs. In England, but not in the United States, this includes fees of the opponent's counsel.
The amount of damages usually is determined by a jury, sometimes by a judge. Sometimes when the injury arises out of breach of contract the amount of loss may be easily determined. In many cases the jury has wide freedom in determining the amount of damages. Sometimes when the damages seem grossly excessive or clearly inadequate the judge may grant a new trial or the decision may be appealed to a higher court.