Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Compensatory Damages Definition:

Damages that compensate the injured victim for injuries actually endured.

Related Terms: Punitive Damages, Damages

Justice Wesley of the United States Court of Appeals in Virgilio:

"Compensatory damages are just that; they compensate the injured victim for injuries actually endured."

Similarly, this, from Justice Boyko from the same Court in MCI:

"It is a fundamental principle of the law of damages ... that a plaintiff should be made whole for his injuries but should not receive a windfall. In making a party injured by wrongful conduct whole, the damages awarded should not place the injured party in a better position than that party would have enjoyed had the wrongful conduct not occurred.

"Compensatory damages are intended to make whole the plaintiff for the wrong done to him or her by the defendant. Compensatory damages are defined as those which measure the actual loss, and are allowed as amends therefor."

In Barnette v Brook, Justice Lauck:

"The Court finds more persuasive, however, the Plaintiff's argument that, as defined by the Supreme Court of Virginia, albeit in another context, actual or compensatory damages, the terms being synonymous, are damages in satisfaction of, or in recompense for, loss or injury sustained. Either term covers all loss recoverable as a matter of right and includes all damages other than punitive or exemplary damages. Compensatory damages are those allowed as a recompense for loss or injury actually received and include loss occurring to property, necessary expenses, insult, pain, mental suffering, injury to the reputation, and the like."

But then, consider these apparently irreconcilable definition tendered by of Justice Hoens of the Supreme Court of New Jersey in the 205 case known as Totaro, Duffy, Cannova & Co. (emphasis added):

"[J]udicial remedies upon breach of contract fall into three general categories: restitution, compensatory damages and performance. Each of these contract remedies serves a different purpose. Restitution returns the innocent party to the condition he or she occupied before the contract was executed. Compensatory damages put the innocent party into the position he or she would have achieved had the contract been completed. Performance makes the non-breaching party whole by requiring the breaching party to fulfill his or her obligation under the agreement."


  • Barnette v. Brook Road Inc., 429 F. Supp. 2d 741 (2005)
  • MCI Worldcom Network Services Inc. v. WM Brode Co., 413 F. Supp. 2d 868 (2005)
  • Totaro, Duffy, Cannova & Co. v Lane, Middleton & Company, 921 A. 2d 1100 (
  • Virgilio v. City of New York, 407 F. 3d 105 (2005)

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!