The Guides to Social Policy Law is a collection of publications designed to assist decision makers administering social policy law. The information contained in this publication is intended only as a guide to relevant legislation/policy. The information is accurate as at the date listed at the bottom of the page, but may be subject to change. To discuss individual circumstances please contact Services Australia.

1.1.D.16 Damages


This definition applies to all payments.


Damages is the economic value of something lost or withheld. For compensation purposes, damages is the sum awarded for any loss or injury that has been sustained. The liability to pay damages for personal injury or death may arise from:

  • a breach of:

    • contract, OR
    • a statutory duty, OR
  • any of a number of torts.

Explanation: Breaches of responsibility, or wrongs.

Damages are rarely paid by the actual 'wrong doer' and are usually recovered from:

  • an insurer, OR
  • self insurer, OR
  • Government.

Damages are usually awarded as a single lump sum. On arriving at a final figure, however, it is customary to take account of certain conventional types of 'harm', which may have been suffered by the person claiming the damages. The types of harm are:

  • pecuniary heads of damage, usually separated into the periods before and after the date of the judgement (see example 1), AND
  • non-pecuniary heads of damage (see example 2).

Example 1: These can include:

  • loss of earnings/loss of earning capacity,
  • hospital and/or medical costs,
  • aids and/or appliances required, and
  • domestic assistance.

Example 2: These can include:

  • pain and suffering,
  • loss of amenities (sometimes called enjoyment of life or loss of bodily function),
  • disfigurement, and
  • loss of expectation of life.

Act reference: SSAct section 17(1) Compensation recovery definitions

Policy reference: SS Guide 3.1.9 Compensation provisions, 4.13 Compensation, 6.4 Compensation Recovery

Last reviewed: