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Special Damages

Damages that are specific to the injury or wrong committed are termed special damages.  These are different from “general damages”, which also flow from the injury but are not as easily calculable.  If a person has medical expenses, the special damages will be all the costs of treatment, loss of income or other losses.

The term “special damages” produces uncertainty depending on the jurisdiction and context in which it is invoked.  Special damages are sought in lawsuits based on contract and tort.  Special damages are requested in addition to “general damages.” Special damages and general damages are classified as compensatory damages.  They are designed to return persons to the position they were in prior to the alleged injury.  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 tort actions, special damages are damages that are reduced to a “sum certain” before trial.

However, the definitions of special and general damages are reversed in contractual disputes.  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.

Special damages would include all other damages.  In contract, special damages and “consequential” damages are virtually interchangeable.  Therefore, the losses flowing out of the breached contract could be compensated through special damages.  However, it is common for sellers to require buyers to sign a contract excluding the recovery of special or consequential damages.  Sometimes, when the state or a private person violates a person’s rights, special damages are described in statutes.

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