Legal Definition of Damage, Damages

The loss caused by one person to another or to his property, either with the design of injury, with negligence and carelessness, or by inevitable accident.3 min read


  1. The loss caused by one person to another or to his property, either with the design of injuring him, with negligence and carelessness, or by inevitable accident.
  2. The loss which someone has sustained, and the gain which he has failed to make.

He who has caused the damage is bound to repair it and, if he has done it maliciously, he may be compelled to pay beyond the actual loss. When damage occurs by accident, without blame to anyone, the loss is borne by the owner of the thing injured; e.g., if a horse run away with his rider, without any fault of the latter, and injures the property of another person, the injury is the loss of the owner of the thing. When the damage happens by the act of God or inevitable accident, e.g., by tempest, earthquake or other natural cause, the loss must be borne by the owner.


  1. The financial compensation awarded to someone who suffered an injury or was harmed by someone else's wrongful act.
  2. The indemnity given by law, to be recovered from a wrong doer by the person who has sustained an injury, either in his person, property, or relative rights, in consequence of the acts of another.

Damages are given either for breaches of contracts or for tortious acts.

Breaches of Contract

Damages for breach of contract may be given, for example, for the non-performance of a written or verbal agreement, or of a covenant to do or not to do a particular thing.

As to the measure of damages, the general rule is that the delinquent shall answer for all the injury which results from the immediate and direct breach of his agreement, but not from secondary and remote consequences.

In estimating the measure of damages sustained in consequence of the acts of a common carrier, it frequently becomes a question whether the value of the goods at the place of embarkation or the port of destination is the rule to establish the damages sustained. It has been ruled that the value at the port of destination is the proper criterion. But contrary decisions have taken place.

Tortious Acts

Damages for tortious acts are given for acts against the person, such as an assault and battery against the reputation, e.g., libels and slander; against the property, e.g., trespass, when force is used; for the consequential acts of the tort-feasor, e.g., when a man, in consequence of building a dam on his own premises, overflows his neighbor's land; against the relative rights of the party injured, e.g., for criminal conversation with his wife.

No settled rule or line of distinction can be marked out when a possibility of damages shall be accounted too remote to entitle a party to claim a recompense; each case must be ruled by its own circumstances.

Damages for torts are either compensatory or vindictive.:

  • By compensatory damages is meant such as are given morely to recompense a party who has sustained a loss in consequence of the acts of the defendant, and where there are no circumstances to aggravate the act, for the purpose of compensating the plaintiff for his loss; e..g., where the defendant had caused to be seized property of A for the debt of B, when such property was out of A's possession, and there appeared reason to believe it was B's.
  • Vindictive damages are such as are given against a defendant who, in addition to the trespass, has been guilty of acts of outrage and wrong which cannot well be measured by a compensation in money; e.g., where the defendant went to A's house, and with insult and outrage seized upon A's property, for a debt due by B, and carried it away leaving A's family in distress.

In cases of loss of which have been insured from maritime dangers, when an adjustment is made the damages are settled by valuing the property, not according to prime cost, but at the price at which it may be sold at the time of settling the average.

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