By: Caroline Ross

What are Damage Awards?

If you were in an accident and want to know an approximation of how much your claim is worth, you should assess the variety of potential damage awards available to you.

‘Damages’ are a legal term used to define and quantify the hardships the injured party suffered due to another party’s actions or conduct. These awards are compensatory in nature, as the goal is to reimburse the victim for their loss or injury. These awards cover current losses (i.e. from injury to trial) and future costs (i.e. losses that can be incurred after trial).[i]

There are two categories of compensatory damage awards: special and general damages.

  • Special damages: otherwise known as pecuniary damages, refer to economic harms.
  • General damages: also known as non-pecuniary damages, relate to non-economic harms associated with pain and suffering.

Economic Losses and Recovery in the Form of Special Damages

Special damages are the out-of-pocket financial expenses the victim suffered due to the other party’s actions or conduct. This type of damage is awarded if the costs are clearly established (using receipts or other methods of recordkeeping) and measured based on the amount of the loss and its duration.[ii]

Potential economic losses include:

  • Lost earnings: loss of past income
    • Note courts can place future lost income/earning potential under general damages or into its own sub-category of pecuniary damages[iii]
  • Medical bills: current expenses
    • Note some courts will place future medical costs under its own sub-category in pecuniary damages or in the general damages section[iv]
  • Costs associated with repairing or replacing damaged property
  • Costs of home care, childcare, and other domestic services
  • Transportation costs (ex. using public transit, taxi or rideshare services while waiting for the damaged vehicle to be repaired)

It is simple to assess past expenses or lost wages because those costs have already been crystallized before the trial date. A reason why courts may categorize future costs differently is that expert witnesses and additional evidence may have be used to assist in determining the exact figure for a claim.

You can only recover expenses that are incurred as a direct result of the injury. For example:

  • A court would not provide special damages to let you recover the cost of a medical procedure that had nothing to do with the injury.
  • You would be able to recover the cost of massage therapy appointments that were recommended or suggested by a physician after the accident.

In short, special damages are determined by calculating out-of-pocket expenses that occur as a direct result of an injury to place you in a similar financial position you were in before the accident.


[i] Andrews v. Grand & Toy Alberta Ltd, [1978] 2 S.C.R. 229

[ii] Ratych v. Bloomer, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 940

[iii] Gruden v. McLean, [1972] 1 O.R. 860

[iv] Ibid