Special Damages

Special damages are awarded in a civil lawsuit in order to compensate a plaintiff for significant financial losses. For example, special damages would be awarded to a victim who is forced to be out of work as the result of a personal injury, and loses wages as a result. Special damages are calculated based on the fair market values at the time of the incident. To explore this concept, consider the following special damages definition.

Definition of Special Damages


  1. Damages awarded to compensate a plaintiff for quantifiable financial losses related to the incident.

Origin of Damages

1250-1300       Old French

What are Damages

The term “damages” refers to the sum of money that is awarded to the plaintiff in a lawsuit. Such funds are intended to compensate that person for the hardships he has endured as a result of the defendant’s actions. Depending on the circumstances of the lawsuit, a person may be awarded one or several types of damages. The courts’ intentions in awarding damages to a person, generally, is to set things right, and to put the victim back to where he would have been financially, had the incident not occurred. Some of these types of damages are explained in more detail below.

Types of Damages

Generally speaking, there are two types of damages: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are awarded to reimburse the victim for his loss or injury. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are awarded to the victim as a way of punishing the wrongdoer. There are certain rules that dictate what types of damages can be awarded and when. For instance, punitive damages are awarded when it can be proven that the wrongdoer’s conduct was both willful and malicious.

There are also, of course, special damages. These types of damages are awarded to compensate a plaintiff for his financial losses that directly result from an action or injury. For example, special damages would refer to the loss of earnings, medical expenses, and repair bills that may be the direct result of a car accident. In addition to being injured and incurring medical bills for treatment, a person may also have to be off work while he recovers, and pay for repairs to his vehicle. In this case, special damages may be awarded to compensate him for his direct financial losses.

Losses Classified as Special Damages

Losses classified as special damages are those whose monetary value can be easily calculated, rather than the often more-difficult-to-calculate general damages. General damages are awarded for things that do not come with a price tag, such as the loss of reputation, or for emotional pain and suffering. The following, however, are examples of losses classified as special damages:

  • Lost wages
  • Loss of irreplaceable items
  • Medical bills
  • Costs of home care, or domestic services in the event of serious injury
  • Costs associated with repairing or replacing damaged property

An award for lost wages is the most common example of special damages. General damages and special damages in a personal injury lawsuit are typically combined under the broader classification of “compensatory damages” because they are both intended to reimburse the victim, rather than discipline the defendant. In most personal injury cases, losses classified as special damages must be clearly defined, and dollar amounts must be determined before the trial even begins. The total of all of the special damages together is referred to as the “sum certain.”

Calculating Damages

When a person makes a claim for damages, he must prove the amount of damages that he is requesting. Generally, the more a person suffers, the higher the damage award he may request. If the claimant is not sure how much to ask for when calculating damages, he might aim for an estimate that is on the higher side, but not so high that he cannot justify it when proving his calculations.

The reason the claimant should aim for a higher number is because the judge cannot grant more than what is requested, but he can grant less. However, too high a number may anger the opposition, making him less likely to negotiate or settle. Similarly, if the claim is offensively high, the judge may find it difficult to believe the other parts of the claimant’s case. This is because the judge has seen numerous cases with similar issues and knows about how much should be awarded in a similar situation.

Another thing for a claimant to remember when calculating damages is that the monetary limits imposed by law, and granted by the court, for such claims do not include interest, court costs, or attorney fees. If the amount of damages is small, the claimant can file in small claims court. However, if the claimant realizes, while calculating damages, that his numbers are on the higher side, then he may wish to pursue his claim in a higher court.

Each jurisdiction has specific rules on the monetary amounts assigned to each court. For instance, in many jurisdictions cases up to $5,000 are to be heard in small claims court, and cases requesting more than $5,000 are heard in the regular civil court.

Court costs should always be factored in when calculating damages. Bringing a case to court costs money that would not otherwise have been spent if the incident in question had not occurred. As such, it is important that a claimant seek to be re-paid for the monies he was forced to spend on court costs and attorney fees, if applicable.

Unlike special damages, calculating general damages is more difficult. This is because conditions like emotional trauma are unique to every person, and inherently difficult to measure. Special damages, on the other hand, are easier to calculate because an exact dollar amount has already been spent.

If someone spends $12,100 on medical expenses to treat an injury after an accident, then he knows he can put $12,100 toward his special damages claim. If the damages being calculated have not occurred yet, such as potential future lost wages or medical care, then expert witnesses and additional evidence can assist in determining an exact dollar figure for the claim.

Special Damages Examples in Famous Personal Injury Cases

There are several examples of special damages being awarded in court cases that have since become famous because the details are rather outrageous. A few of these outrageous claims are detailed below.

Cedrick Makara v. Newmark Realty and 40 Worth Associates

Cedrick Makara of New York City was awarded $3 million by a jury after claiming that he had hurt his thumb while trying to leave the restroom at his workplace. Makara, a claims examiner, was ultimately out of work for six months due to injuring the tendons in his thumb. Makara claimed that the door to the restroom had been broken for some time, and that the building’s manager and owner had neglected to fix it.

Specifically, the door was missing a doorknob, and when Makara reached his hand through the hole to pull the door toward him, someone simultaneously pushed the door in. Makara’s injuries were so severe that he required surgery, and he was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages for past and future pain and suffering, as well as $200,000 in special damages for any potential medical needs he might have in the future.

Gloria Estefan v. Heraldo Samuels, et al.

Singer Gloria Estefan was touring with her band in 1990 when a tractor-trailer rear-ended their tour bus. Estefan sustained a broken back in the accident and, as a result, she was forced to miss a year of touring. Estefan had to learn how to walk again, as well as to be able to endure the stress that came with touring, and being on stage and on her feet for long periods of time. Estefan and her husband filed a lawsuit, and the tractor trailer company was held liable for the accident.

Estefan and her husband sued for medical expenses, as well as lost wages due to Estefan being unable to perform. They also sued for pain and suffering. They were ultimately awarded nearly $9 million in compensatory and special damages. In an interesting turn of events, the company that owned the tractor-trailer then sued the company that operated the truck in an attempt to recoup some of the money they had lost in the lawsuit.

Bret Michaels v. CBS

In another case in which a celebrity sued a company over an accident, Poison front man and reality television show star Bret Michaels sued CBS after suffering an injury at the Tony Award broadcast in 2009. Michael claimed he was not properly instructed on how to leave the stage, which caused him to be hit in the head by a set piece.

Michaels broke his nose and even suffered a brain hemorrhage a few months later. He believed that the hemorrhage was also a direct result of the accident. The courts ultimately ruled in Michaels’ favor, but the terms of the settlement, as well as the resulting compensatory and special damages award, was not disclosed to the public.

Miramon v. Bradley

In 1988, Louisiana student Julie Miramon was involved in two car accidents. The first was a serious accident. The second was less severe, with Miramon being rear-ended. Miramon did not sustain any noteworthy physical injuries during either of these accidents. However, she did develop severe mental distress, which ultimately led to an eating disorder and anxiety. She testified during her personal injury trial that her life had changed due to her newly developed mental conditions.

According to medical professionals who also testified in her case, the second accident had worked to magnify unresolved issues from the first accident. Initially, Miramon was not awarded any damages, special or otherwise, in her case. However, on appeal she was awarded $790 in special damages to cover her medical expenses, as well as $6,000 in compensatory damages to compensate her for her pain and suffering.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Claimant – A person making a claim.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
  • Punitive Damages – Money awarded to the injured party above and beyond their actual damages, to punish the wrongdoer for outrageous misconduct in a civil matter.