Civil Liability: Receiving Compensation for Damages

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You can receive money as compensation for damages you suffered as a result of a fault that a person or company committed. To receive compensation, you must prove they committed a fault which caused you some harm. This engages their “civil liability” (also known as civil responsibility). You must also prove the value of the damages you suffered.

What are Damages?

Damages are negative consequences you’ve suffered as a direct result of a fault that a person or a company has committed. A single event can cause several different types of damages. Here are a few examples:

  •  Damages caused by a fall down broken stairs:
    • bone fractures
    • housekeeping costs
    • pain and suffering from the injury
    • loss of salary
    • cost of replacing your glasses, which broke when you fell
  • Damages caused by an unjustified attack on your reputation:
    • depression
    • psychologist’s fees
    • loss of friendships 

Damages can be compensated with money

The damages you suffered can generally be compensated by a sum of money paid by the person who caused the harm. The purpose is to compensate you for the negative consequences you’ve suffered, not to enrich you.

You can receive compensation for damages, even if it’s difficult to put a price on them (for example, no longer being able to play certain sports, change to your physical appearance because of an injury, or pain caused by the injury).

You can also receive compensation for future damages. For example, you can be compensated for loss of future salary because your injuries will prevent you from working.

You must prove the damages you’ve suffered

To receive compensation, you must be able to prove you’ve suffered damages and also prove their value. Sometimes this is easy to do. For example, if your glasses broke when you fell, you can submit the invoice from your optician to claim the cost of repairing or replacing your glasses.

But sometimes it’s difficult to prove the value of damages. This might be the case, for example, if you lost friends because someone unjustly attacked your reputation. In this situation, you can testify about how losing friends has affected your life. But what is the value of lost friendships? The amounts awarded are different in each case and depend on the evidence presented.

You must do your best to limit damages

You have a duty to minimize your damages. This means taking steps to keep the amount of damages as low as possible. 

For example, your basement was flooded because of a water leak. However, you did not act promptly to dry it out, and now there’s mould everywhere. You can’t claim, from the person who caused the flood, the cost of decontaminating your basement, because you did not take measures promptly to limit the water damage.

There must be a fault in order for you to be compensated

Someone must have committed a fault in order for you to be compensated for damages. If no one committed a fault, you won’t receive compensation even if you suffered some damages.

Committing a fault can involve doing something that harms someone else (for example, writing a defamatory comment on the Internet). A person can also commit a fault by failing to act when they should have (for example, not repairing a staircase).

To determine whether a fault has been committed, a judge considers what a reasonable person would have done in a similar situation. In other words, would a reasonable person have written that comment online? Or would a reasonable person have left the staircase in this condition? If the answer is yes, then no fault was committed.

You can be held partially responsible

Sometimes the damages you suffered result from more than one person’s fault. Responsibility will be divided among all the persons at fault, including you! Your share of the responsibility will decrease the amount of compensation you receive.

Sometimes damages are awarded to punish a person

Punitive damages can be awarded to discourage the person who caused the harm from doing it again. Punitive damages are awarded in certain cases, for example, when one person harms another intentionally. For someone be entitled to punitive damages, they must be provided for in the law being applied in their case.

Important: If you suffered damages because a person or company didn’t respect their contract or didn’t perform it properly, the rules of contractual liability (contractual responsibility) will apply.