Pecuniary & Non-Pecuniary Damages: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 A Civil Disagreement
  • 1:09 What Are Damages?
  • 2:23 Types of Damages
  • 2:54 Pecuniary vs Non-Pecuniary
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet
In a case involving a civil dispute, the court will commonly award damages. In this lesson, we discuss pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages and provide examples that illustrate the difference.

A Civil Disagreement

Brenda was putting her son Jacob to bed when the tree from the neighbor's yard crashed down on the house and shattered the window in Jacob's bedroom. The neighbor had just cut the tree down without professional help, not expecting it to fall on Brenda's house. A piece of glass from the window sliced Jacob's arm. Jacob had to get stitches, stay the night in the hospital, and take medicine for a resulting infection. His medical bills totaled $6,300, and his doctor said that Jacob would need to have plastic surgery once the wound was fully healed to avoid a disfiguring scar. Jacob and Brenda have had trouble sleeping since the accident, and Jacob refuses to sleep in his own room.

A couple of months after the incident, the neighbor's insurance insurance company called and offered Brenda a check for $15,400. This was the exact amount needed to cover the medical bills, future medical bills, fixing the roof and the window, and a week's worth of Brenda's lost wages due to doctor visits. Brenda told the insurance company that she thought the offer was low, but when she added all of the bills and costs, it came out to $15,400. Should Brenda take the money? How can she justify more?

What Are Damages?

In a civil society, when two people have a disagreement that they can't settle between themselves, instead of solving the issue by force, one person takes the other person to court. According to the law, when someone purposefully or negligently injures another person, they have to try to get the injured party back to the position he or she was in before the injury. In other words, the injury shouldn't cost the victim. Most of the time that's not possible because of the nature of the loss, but if possible, the court does try to set things right.

For example, if you have a title to a car and another person claims it belongs to them, you can go to court and prove your ownership. The court can order the car to be physically returned to you. When a judge orders the defendant to do something other than pay money, it is called specific performance. So, in the car example, the court can order the sheriff to seize the car and return it to you if the defendant will not give it back to you willingly. But what if the guy burns the car before the sheriff gets there? Are you out of luck?

In some cases, it's not possible to put someone back to their pre-injury position. Property cannot be revived from the ashes once it is burned. A leg cannot be replaced. A person cannot be brought back to life. So, the court is left to do the next best thing, which is to give the aggrieved some money.

Types of Damages

In legal terms, there are three types of damages that occur when someone wrongs another person:

  • Compensatory damages are damages that have resulted as a direct consequence of the injury.
  • Nominal damages are damages that exist but are difficult or impossible to put a value to.
  • Punitive damages are damages meant to punish the wrongdoer above and beyond compensatory damages and to discourage that behavior in the future. The law requires there to be either compensatory or nominal before an award of punitive damages can be awarded.

Pecuniary and Non-Pecuniary Damages

Within the category of compensatory damages, sometimes called consequential damages, there are two subcategories: pecuniary damages and non-pecuniary damages. Pecuniary simply means of or relating to money, so these damages are those where the monetary value is easily discernible.

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