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Civil Law Remedies

If you have grounds for a civil case, understanding the types of awards a court can make can help you decide if you want to pursue this option. It's important to note that civil suits, with the exception of those relating to sexual assault and battery, generally have a two year limitation period for beginning a claim.


In civil cases the individual starting the civil action is known as the plaintiff and the party being sued is known as the defendant.

When a civil action is successful, the court will attempt to remedy the situation by trying to put the injured person in as good of a position as they would have been if they had not been injured. This is generally done by ordering the offending party to pay money, called damages, to the injured party. It's important to note that in this sense "injury" is not limited to physical injuries. Damages can be awarded for things like lost wages, emotional distress, loss of reputation or dignity and so forth.

When a court is considering awarding damages, there are several "headings" of damages they will consider, depending on the circumstances. Individuals can be awarded damages under one or more headings. Below is a brief - and simplified - overview. In all cases the injury and damages suffered must be caused by the defendant's actions.

General Damages

When an injury doesn't involve an actual monetary loss, it may be difficult or impossible to come up with an exact dollar figure that would compensate a plaintiff for their loss. At the same time, there are wrongs that the court can just assume caused damage - even though difficult or impossible to equate with a dollar figure. Pain - physical, emotional or psychological - is one such type of injury. In these cases the court can award what are known as general damages.

The court must determine how much compensation the plaintiff should receive. The court will consider how the injury has impacted the plaintiff's life and compare the plaintiff's situation to previously decided cases where general damages were awarded.

Actual Damages

When an individual's losses can be quantified, the court can award damages to compensate for the loss. These damages are known as actual or compensatory damages. Typical examples of the types of losses that are covered include things like lost wages or income, medical bills and other out-of-pocket expenses.

Unlike general damages where the court must estimate an award that will compensate for the injury, actual damages can only be awarded for monetary losses incurred by the plaintiff.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for their conduct. They can also serve to deter them from behaving the same way in the future.

Punitive damages are only awarded in exceptional cases when the defendant's actions are malicious, outrageous or extreme. Unlike other damages, punitive damages are not intended to compensate the plaintiff but rather punish the defendant.

As the Supreme Court of Canada has stated:

it is the means by which the jury or judge expresses its outrage at the egregious conduct of the defendant

Aggravated Damages

Aggravated damages are often tied to the same conduct addressed under punitive damages. However, these damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for additional, intangible harm caused by the defendant's outrageous conduct. They act as a way to increase damages that have been awarded.

Aggravated damages are typically awarded for things like psychological injuries, loss of dignity, humiliation, or injury to feelings.

The conduct must be a type which can be classified as high-handed, outrageous, or malicious, and which "aggravates" the injury done by adding insult to injury.

Punitive and Aggravated Damages in Canada; Hawley, Donna Lea, Alberta Law Review Society

Nominal Damages

Nominal damages may be awarded in cases where the defendant's conduct amounts to a tort but the plaintiff has not suffered a meaningful loss. These damages recognize that a wrong was committed, even when no injury occurred or the extent of the damages could not be proven.

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