The remedy of damages—general principles
The remedy of damages—general principles

The following Dispute Resolution guidance note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • The remedy of damages—general principles
  • What are damages?
  • Different types of damages
  • Factors affecting the recovery of damages
  • Damages in equity (in lieu of an injunction, Senior Courts Act 1981)

What are damages?

The term ‘damages’ refers to any amount of money awarded by a court in order to compensate a claimant who has suffered loss or damage as a result of a wrong for which the defendant is responsible. It is traditionally a common law remedy, although the court may also award equitable damages in certain circumstances (see further below).

In this way, they are distinguishable from the remedy available in a claim based on unjust enrichment, which is concerned with an unjustified gain by the defendant independently of whether the latter is a wrongdoer. Therefore other pecuniary claims, such as for the return of money paid by mistake, or where consideration has failed or for the reasonable value of goods supplied or services rendered, are distinguishable from a claim for damages (for these former types of claim and remedy, see subtopic: Restitution and unjust enrichment—overview).

Different types of damages

Nominal and substantial damages

Damages can be either ‘nominal’ or ‘substantial’.

Nominal damages were explained well by Kay LJ in Mappouras v Waldrons Solicitors:

‘The appellant will probably not understand what is meant by nominal damage... Normally the damages that a person receives are to compensate him for the loss he has suffered, which has been caused by the respondent's breach of contract. In [this case] there were no such