A court may remedy a civil action in a number of different ways. However, the most common remedy sought by an injured party (Plaintiff) in a civil action is monetary compensation. Monetary compensation is also referred to as damages and this article will explore the various ways in which a court will assess damages and how an award of damages may be reduced as a result of a plaintiff’s behaviour.
Compensatory damages in Ireland are assessed under two main categories: general damages and special damages.
General damages award a plaintiff for non-financial loss incurred by him/her as a result of the defendant’s wrongdoing. Examples of general damages include compensation for pain, suffering, inconvenience, loss of amenity and/or loss expectation of life suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the defendant’s negligence or wrongdoing. The court will assess general damages having regard to the seriousness of the wrong suffered by the plaintiff. For example, if a plaintiff is seriously injured in a road traffic accident, the court will take into account the pain already suffered by the plaintiff up to the day of the hearing and for how long and to what extent the plaintiff is likely to suffer in the future as result of these injuries. The court will assess the gravity and intensity of the plaintiff’s injuries having regard to medical reports, expert opinions and prognoses.
Special damages award the plaintiff for costs and expenses incurred by him/her as a result of the negligence or wrongdoing of the defendant. Again, using the example of a plaintiff injured in a road traffic accident, special damages in this instance would include loss of earnings (as the plaintiff may be unable to attend work as a result of the injuries sustained), damage to the plaintiff’s vehicle, cost of medical and hospital treatment, cost of physiotherapy, travel expenses etc.
Readers should note that although a plaintiff may be awarded damages in a civil action, a court may make certain deductions from the amount awarded as a result of the plaintiff’s behaviour. The most common basis upon which a court will do so is where a plaintiff has contributed in some way to the wrong or injury suffered by him/her. This is referred to as Contributory Negligence. This occurs, for example, where a plaintiff is injured in a road traffic accident whilst not wearing a seatbelt. Thus, a court may deduct, for example, 20% of the damages awarded, as the plaintiff contributed to his/her own injuries.
Therefore, we can see the various headings under which a court will assess the quantum of compensation to be awarded to a plaintiff. While special damages may be assessed with relative ease, general damages are often more difficult to assess and may vary significantly. It is also noteworthy that damages may be substantially reduced if the plaintiff is found to have contributed to the wrong suffered by him/her.