Actual Damages

Overview

In tort law, actual damages is a type of damages which refers to compensation awarded by a court in response to a loss suffered by a party.

The Supreme Court held in Birsdall v. Coolidge, 93 U.S. 64 (1876) that the phrases "compensatory damages" and "actual damages" are identical.

The amount awarded is based on the proven harm, loss, or injury suffered by the plaintiff. This award does not include punitive damages, which may be awarded when the defendant's actions are especially reckless or malicious.

Calculating Actual Damages

In Birsdsall, the Supreme Court wrote that "the amount awarded shall be precisely commensurate with the injury suffered, neither more nor less." When calculating damages, courts will often look at lost wages/income, related medical bills, the cost of repairs to damaged property, the costs of materials needed to deal with the injury (i.e. wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs, etc), and related job search expenses for a wrongful termination. Courts may include damages for emotional distress, however some are more hesitant to include these emotional damages. 

Further Reading

For more on actual damages, see this Villanova Law Review article, this Georgetown Law Journal article, and this Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review article.