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What are damages?
"Damages" refer to monetary compensation provided by the law for the loss or injury sustained by you due to a legal wrong committed by another party. If you prove that you were harmed, that the other party is legally responsible for that harm, and the amount o damages, then the court may award you damages that will be paid by the other side.
There are generally two types of damages.
- Actual Damages or Compensatory Damages
- Punitive Damages
Actual Damages / Compensatory Damages
- Actual damages are meant to compensate you for the loss or injury by returning you to the position you were in before the harm occurred.
- The goal of actual damages is to make you "whole."
- Actual damages are the amount of money the court will allow for the actual harm that you have suffered because of some action by the other side or something that the other side failed to do (that they should have done).
- Usually damage awards cover items such as the cost of repairing or replacing your property, lost wages, or other expenses.
- Actual damages may result from a “tort.” A tort is a civil wrong that someone commits against you -- for example, damaging your car in an auto accident.
- Actual damages may result from a "breach of contract." A breach of contract occurs when someone fails to “make good” on a formal agreement made with you -- for example, an auto mechanic’s failure to make a repair for which you have paid.
Read the case: Superior Const. Co. v. Elmo, 204 Md. 1 (Court of Appeals 1954)
- Punitive damages are meant to punish the person who caused the harm (or failed to do some action that resulted in the harm).
- Punitive damages are additional money awarded to punish the defendant because their conduct was particularly egregious or done with malice.
- The goal is to punish the defendant for their conduct.
Read the case: Philip Morris Inc. v. Angeletti, 358 Md. 689 (Court of Appeals, 2000)
In addition, there are types of damages, including:
- Liquidated Damages - Generally awarded in the context of contracts, these are damages where the amount is agreed upon by the parties when a contract is formed.
- Nominal Damages - Generally trivial sums that are awarded when an injury has been provided, but it is impossible to calculate the actual amount
- Special Damages - Awarded to cover related expenses such as lost wages resulting from an accident
- Statutory Damages - Awarded because the law specifically requires it.
Read the cases: AGV Sports Group, Inc. v. Protus IP Solutions, Inc., 417 Md. 386 (Court of Appeals 2010) [liquidated damages]; Gilbert Const. Co. v. Gross, 212 Md. 402 (Court of Appeals 1957) [nominal damages]; Weiller v. Weiss, 124 Md. 461 (Court of Appeals 1915) [special damages]
Direct v. Consequential Damages
- Direct damages result directly from the loss or injury sustained.
- Consequential damages result indirectly, but naturally, from the loss or injury sustained.
Read the case: Bartholomee v. Casey, 103 Md. App. 34 (Court of Special Appeals 1994); Fowler v. Printers II, Inc., 89 Md. App. 448 (Court of Special Appeals 1991)
What do I need to prove?
It is not enough to go into court and simply demand money damages. If you are the plaintiff (the person who started the case), then you have the "burden of proof."
- You must prove to the court that your version of what happened is true.
- You must collect and submit evidence to the court that your version of the events is true.
- Learn more about preparing your case.
There are different levels of “proof.” Your case must also meet certain legal requirements.
- You may have seen television shows where lawyers use the term “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That is the level of “standard of proof” used in criminal trials.
- In a non-criminal case, you need to prove your case by a “preponderance of the evidence." This means that you must persuade the court that your version is more likely to be true than not to be true.
- Here is another way to look at this. You must show that over 50% of the believable evidence is in your favor.
The court will consider whether:
- you have suffered a loss or injury that can be compensated with a fixed sum of money; and
- the party named in your complaint is the party responsible for your loss or injury.
Read the case: Weiller v. Weiss, 124 Md. 461 (Court of Appeals 1915)
Read the rule: Md. Rule 2-305 [Circuit Court]; Md. Rule 3-305 [District Court]
How do I prove damages?
The specific facts and circumstances of your situation will impact how to prove damages -- for example, the type of case, the facts of your case.
To get started, research the law on your type of case. You have to understand the elements that are needed to prove your case. Learn more about researching the law.
Next, look at the facts of your case. What evidence can you collect to persuade the judge that:
- you were harmed; AND
- the other side caused this harm directly or hurt you via their failure to act?
Remember that proving you have been harmed in some way is not necessarily the same as proving how much you should be compensated. You must prove in court that the amount you ask for is justified. The judge will decide damages. However, be prepared to make an argument for the amount that you think is fair.
Defendants - If you are the defendant, you need to understand the law and what the plaintiff (the person who sued you) must prove. Prepare in advance, but plan on being able to react to what the other side says during the trial.
Your job is to show one or more of the following:
- You were not at fault.
- If you were at fault, the other side was not harmed or that someone else caused some (or all) of the harm.
- If the other side was harmed and it was your fault, you may be able to show that the award amount requested by the other side is incorrect or unfair.
- If the other side was harmed and it was your fault, you may also be able to show the extent of the damage may be partly due to failures of the other side to try and limit the damages you owe.
Figuring out what damages are appropriate for your situation as well as how to prove damages can be complex. As the specific facts and circumstances of your situation will depend what's available to you, consider consulting with an attorney.