What are special and general damages?

Special damages are those that are relatively easy to calculate and often have a dollar amount attached to them. Special damages are the easier, more straightforward side of compensatory damages.

Special damages can include medical bills, because they offer a firm dollar amount. Lost income can also be classified as special damages, as it can easily be calculated, as can out-of-pocket expenses, property damages and property loss. Put another way, special damages are easily figured out without too much debate.

General damages are typically more subjective and not always easy to quantify and include:

  • Emotional distress
  • Anxiety
  • Pain/suffering
  • Mental illness

There are several methods of calculating general damages. One is the multiplier method that figures out general damages by multiplying the total of the special damages by a number that depends on how serious the plaintiff’s injuries happen to be.

Other cases may use a per diem calculation that attaches a dollar value to every day the victim/plaintiff suffered and then add the value of the days together. Courts have even been known to use a mix of both methods to calculate damages. If the injuries sustained are serious, general damages tend to be higher. If the injuries are considered to be minor, the damages tend to be lower.

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