Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Special Damages Definition:

Damages capable of precise calculation such as out-of-pocket expenses and loss of earnings.

Related Terms: Non-pecuniary Damages, General Damages, Damages, Personal Injury

"Special damages," wrote Justice George Rideout of the Court of Queen's Bench of New Brunswick in P.R.O. Holdings Ltd. v. Atlantic Speedy Propane Limited, "normally indicates damages that can be calculated precisely or mathematically."

In legal history, the terms general damages and special damages developed concurrently and often distinguished the one from the other. Consider these words of Justice Mcnaughten (aka "Lord MacNaughten") in a 1905 English case, Ströms Bruks:

"General damages, as I understand the term, are such as the law will presume to be the direct natural or probable consequence of the act complained of.

"Special damages, on the other hand, are such as the law will not infer from the nature of the act. They do not follow in ordinary course; they are exceptional in their character and therefore much be claimed specially and proved strictly."

Several decades later, this from British Transportation Commission v Gourley:

"In an action for personal injuries the damages are always divided into two main parts.

"First, there is what is referred to as special damage, which has to be specially pleaded and proved. This consists of out-of-pocket expenses and loss of earnings incurred down to the date of trial, and is generally capable of substantially exact calculation.

"Secondly, there is general damage which the law implies and is not specially pleaded. This includes compensation for pain and suffering and the like, and, if the injuries suffered are such as to lead to continuing or permanent disability, compensation for loss of earning power in the future."


  • British Transport Commission v. Gourley, [1956] A.C. 185
  • P.R.O. Holdings Ltd. v. Atlantic Speedy Propane Ltd., 236 NBR (2d) 47 (2001)
  • Staats v. Canadian Pacific Railway, 17 D.L.R. 309 (1914)
  • Ströms Bruks Akt Bolag v. Hutchison, [1905] A.C. 515

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