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Special Damages

Pecuniary compensation for injuries that follow the initial injury for which compensation is sought.

The terminology and classification of types of damages is varied, at times contradictory, and often confusing. The term "special damages" is one such term that can produce uncertainty, depending on the jurisdiction and context in which it is invoked.

Special damages are sought in lawsuits based on contract and TORT. They are asked for in addition to "general damages." These two types are classified as COMPENSATORY DAMAGES and are both designed to return persons to the position they were in prior to the alleged injury. For example, if a person was injured in an automobile accident, the victim could seek damages that would cover medical expenses, damage to the motor vehicle, and the loss of earnings now and in the future. Each of these would be classified as special damages. If the victim sought a money award for pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of consortium, these would be classified as general damages. Thus, special damages are based on measurable dollar amounts of actual loss, while general damages are for intangible losses that can be inferred from special damages as well as other facts surrounding the case. In this description special damages are damages that are reduced to a "sum certain" before trial. This description is typically used in tort actions.

However, the definitions of special and general damages are reversed in contractual disputes. Thus, general damages in contract would include the difference between contract and market prices, the difference between the value of the goods as delivered and as warranted, and interest on money that has been wrongfully withheld. In contrast, special damages would include all other damages. In contract special damages and "consequential" damages are virtually interchangeable. In this context the losses flowing out of the breached contract could be compensated for as special damages. For example, the lost profits that resulted from the failure of the seller to deliver the goods could be claimed as special damages. However, it is commonplace for sellers to require buyers to sign a contract excluding the recovery of special or consequential damages.

In addition, special damages are sometimes described in statutes when the legislature seeks to identify specific types of awards that are available when the state or a private person violates a person's rights. For example, a statute may list the special damages plaintiffs are entitled to if their real property is improperly taken through EMINENT DOMAIN.


Ball, David. 2001. David Ball on Damages. Denver, Colo.: National Institute for Trial Advocacy.

Dunn, Robert L. 1998. Recovery of Damages for Lost Profits. Westport, Conn.: Lawpress Corp.

Greene, Edie, and Brian H. Bornstein. 2002. Determining Damages: The Psychology of Jury Awards. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.


Lawsuit; Restitution.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Lemuel Shaw Biography to Special plea