General principles of damages – kinds of damages

General principles of damages – kinds of damages

To understand the general principles and the various kinds of damages, let us begin by first defining the damages.

Meaning and definition of damages:

In law of torts, “damage” means the loss or the harm that has been suffered or presumed to be suffered by a person as a result of some wrongful act of another. The sum of money awarded by a court to compensate the “damage” caused is called “damages”. There are many remedies which are available to a plaintiff, against whom the wrong has been done, one of the most popular of these remedies is – damages.

For damages to be enforced, a certain legal injury must have taken place. This legal injury has to occur to a legal right. From the point of view of presumption of damage, rights can be classified into two types: (1) absolute rights, (2) qualified. When an absolute right is violated, the law conclusively presumes damage although the person wronged may have suffered no pecuniary loss whatsoever. In case of qualified rights, there is no presumption of legal damage and the violation of such rights is actionable only on proof of actual or special damage.

The real significance of a legal damage is illustrated by the two maxims: namely injuria sine damnum and damnum sine injuria. In case of injuria sine damnum, there is infringement of an absolute private right without any actual loss or damage. Whereas in case of damnum sine injuria, there is legal damage without any injury or infringement of a private right. If there is merely a threat of infringement of a legal right without the injury being complete the person whose right has been threatened can bring a suit under the provisions of the Specific Relief Act for declaration and injunction.

The general principle of damages is to compensate the injured party and put them back in their original position.

Kinds of damages:

  1. Compensatory damages– In this type of damages, the plaintiff is awarded a certain amount of compensation to put him back into his original position. Compensatory damages are not done to punish the defendant, but to compensate for the loss suffered by the plaintiff.
  2. Nominal damages– Nominal damages are usually awarded in the cases of injuria sine damnum , where in the Court recognizes that there is no actual loss occurred, just the violation of right of the plaintiff. The damages awarded are nominal or low.
  3. Contemptuous damages– This type of damages is similar to nominal damages. The only difference one can find between the two is that, in contemptuous damages, there is some actual loss suffered by the plaintiff, which is not deserving of any compensation. In such cases, the court allows contemptuous damages of very low amount.
  4. Aggravated damages– Aggravated damages are the excess or the add on damages which are awarded by the court in the cases where the court feels that there is mental loss occurred to the plaintiff, such as agony, and which needs to be compensated.
  5. Punitive damages– These are also called as exemplary damages. The punitive damages are awarded in the cases where the defendant has committed serious crime. The court awards exemplary damages to set an example so that others do not dare to commit a crime like so.

Principle of damages:

In torts law, the Court intends on providing damages which are optimal, i.e., neither the    claimant is over-compensated, nor insufficiently compensated. It is kept in mind that the compensation or the damages awarded to the claimant is equal to the injury or loss occurred. Therefore, while awarding damages, the Court takes the following things into account:

  • The relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant.
  • The nature and extent of the injury.
  • Whether the liability was vicarious or not.

Liquidated damages or unliquidated damages:

Both these damages, liquidated or unliquidated damages, are awarded when some actual loss is occurred.

  • Liquidated damages are the damages in which the amount payable is foreseen or predetermined. It is usually paid in cases of contracts, whether the damages are usually foreseen by the parties and are decided mutually.
  • Unliquidated damages are the damages which are not determined in advance. These damages are awarded in cases of torts.

Case laws:

  • In the case of Constantine v. Imperial London Hotels Ltd.,

” The plaintiff was a cricketer from West Indies who had gone to the defendant hotel to stay but he was rejected on the basis of his nationality, therefore, the plaintiff stayed at another hotel and did not suffer any actual damage. In the case brought by him, the defendant was held liable because the plaintiff’s legal right was violated despite no actual injury happening and they had to pay nominal damages of five guineas.”

  • In the case of Ashby v. White (1703) 92 ER 126,

” the plaintiff was prevented from voting by the defendant and the candidate for whom the plaintiff was going to vote still won. The plaintiff sued the defendant. It was held that even though no actual damage was suffered by the plaintiff, the defendant was still liable for preventing him from exercising his legal right to vote and thus nominal damages were awarded in this case.”


Damages are the monetary compensation which is awarded to the plaintiff by the Court to make up for the loss suffered. Damages are usually of five types, based of the compensation provided and the nature and extent of the wrong caused. Damages can also be divided into liquidated and unliquidated damages, which find their uses in different types of law. Liquidated damages are mostly used in contracts law and unliquidated damages are used in torts law. The concept of damage is based on two legal maxims, injuria sine damnum and damnum sine injuria. Different damages are awarded for both these different maxims. While calculating damages, the relation between plaintiff and defendant is also considered, apart from the other factors.

Author: Vaishnavi Makne,
Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur

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