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Damages - Compensatory Damages: General Damages

contract breach plaintiff defendant

Compensatory damages, also called actual damages, are typically broken down into two categories: general and special. General damages arise naturally and logically from a defendant's conduct or breach of contract. They are the immediate, direct, and proximate result of an injury or breach of contract. General damages are not used to hold a defendant liable for remote consequences flowing from an act or omission. Moreover, they cannot be based upon mere speculation or conjecture, but must be established with reasonable certainty. They do not have to be pleaded specially, merely proven at trial. A plaintiff's medical expenses caused by defendant's negligent operation of a motor vehicle is an example of general damages.

In cases involving tortious conduct, foreseeability of harm is generally not a limitation on recovery for general damages. For example, suppose the plaintiff in the above example suffers from some rare condition that significantly worsens his condition and hampers his recovery. The tortfeasor "takes the victim as he finds him," and is responsible for the extraordinary medical costs. In breach of contract cases, the injured party is entitled to the amount of compensation that will leave her as well off as if the contract had been fully performed.

Compensatory damages that are capable of being estimated in and compensated by money are called pecuniary damages. In assessing general damages in a breach of contract action, a plaintiff might use market reports, expert testimony, comparable sales, or other methods to establish the economic value that has been lost, i.e., the "loss of expectancy" or "loss of bargain." An award for doctor and hospital expenses for an plaintiff in a personal injury case is also a pecuniary award.

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