What Constitutes General Damages In Personal Injury Claims?

Should you or an associate have initiated a compensation claim, it is likely that the term ‘damages’ has been employed in discussions concerning the claim. In essence, damages represent the quantifiable monetary compensation awarded to an individual for losses incurred subsequent to a successful personal injury claim.

Personal injury cases are inherently unique, necessitating a thorough consideration of various principles to adequately assess the repercussions of an injury on an individual’s life, thereby determining the appropriate monetary recompense for the losses endured. Moreover, statutory frameworks establish certain thresholds and limitations on the compensation awarded, which may differ based on the jurisdiction and the specific nature of the claim, be it related to public liability, motor vehicle incidents, or workers’ compensation.

This exposition delineates the foundational principles of damage awards and the potential categories of disbursements that a successful claimant might receive.

A man with broken foot holding an x-ray film

Fundamental Principle for the allocation of damages under the common law framework

The person who has incurred harm should be restored as closely as possible to their pre-injury condition. Specific exemptions notwithstanding, one can only pursue a claim for damages once for any particular cause of action. Typically, courts award a single aggregate sum as compensation; however, they may grant staggered or ‘structured’ settlements in certain cases.
The beneficiary of these damages has the freedom to use the awarded funds as they see fit. The claimant must prove the injury for which they seek compensation. Usually, a one-time compensation payment is final and remains unchanged, even if the claimant’s condition worsens later. The settlement process in many personal injury claims is lengthy due to the need for thorough assessments of the claimant’s injuries and losses, both current and future, and detailed evidence compilation to secure appropriate compensation.

Types of general damages

Varieties of Compensatory Awards

Special damages 

Encompass those losses that can be precisely quantified or determined with substantial certainty. These include medical expenses incurred or past income lost by a claimant up to the date of a court hearing. Such figures are verifiable through bills, receipts, and payroll documentation.

General damages 

Pertain to losses that cannot be definitively quantified, such as prospective financial losses, future earnings, and medical expenses. Included in this category are damages for ‘pain and suffering’, which consider both prior and prospective pain and suffering, elements that defy precise calculation.

Pecuniary losses 

Involve monetary aspects, including medical costs already settled by a claimant or earnings lost from the date of the injury to the trial date. These, if substantiated, are classified as special damages. Conversely, future pecuniary losses, like diminished future earning capacity, are typically categorised under general damages.

Non-pecuniary losses 

Refer to those not tied to a specific monetary figure (for instance, pain and suffering or the loss of use of a limb) and are categorised under general damages due to their imprecise nature.

A legal scale for assessment categories of damages

Assessment of Damages: Considerations and Categories

In the evaluation of damages, various factors are meticulously considered within the boundaries and thresholds established by pertinent legislation and the foundational principles of law.

General Damages

Compensation through general damages addresses the adverse effects sustained injuries have exerted on an individual’s lifestyle prior to injury. This includes pain and suffering, diminished enjoyment of life, and loss of amenity (ongoing disability).

The understanding of this damages category can often be complex as seemingly similar injuries can yield varied assessments of ‘loss’. For instance, a back injury hindering a young athlete from continuing in sports will be valued differently from the same injury impacting a sedentary retiree. Considerations must include age, the permanence of the injury, prospective improvement, and anticipated future medical treatments.

Loss of Earnings and Superannuation Benefits

Compensation for loss of earnings encompasses both past and future earnings losses where an individual has forfeited wages due to their injuries. Courts must assess the potential long-term effects on the claimant’s capacity to earn, including whether the injury has resulted in a complete or partial loss of this capacity. The feasibility of the claimant engaging in alternative employment, with or without additional training, is also scrutinized.

Further, damages may be extended to cover superannuation losses directly corresponding with the loss of past and future earnings.

Gratuitous Attendant Care Services

Gratuitous services entail domestic aid provided by family, friends, neighbours, or paid professionals. These services, necessitated solely due to the injury, may span nursing, personal care, daily task assistance, transportation, and support with household chores like cleaning, cooking, and gardening. Compensation may be granted for such essential services that replicate the tasks formerly executed by the injured individual.

Loss of Capacity to Provide Domestic Services

Under specific constraints, compensation may be considered for an injured individual’s reduced ability to offer gratuitous domestic services to dependents.

Past and Future Medical Expenses

This category includes reimbursement for medical costs already incurred due to injuries—ranging from doctor visits, surgeries, and hospital stays, to rehabilitation, medications, aids, and necessary modifications to homes or vehicles. Moreover, a prognosis of future medical needs will guide the assessment of reasonable anticipated medical expenses.


It is pivotal to acknowledge that general damages in personal injury claim a spectrum of non-economic losses that, while inherently challenging to quantify, play a role in the compensation of an injured party. This primarily addresses the impacts of injuries—such as pain and suffering, loss of life enjoyment, and ongoing disabilities—that disrupt an individual’s quality of life.

The legal principles guiding the assessment of general damages under Australian common law strive to restore the injured party, as much as feasibly possible, to the condition they were in before their injury. 

Given the complexities inherent in calculating such damages, courts meticulously evaluate a multitude of factors, including the nature and severity of the injury, the age of the injured, their prior lifestyle, and the long-term repercussions of their impairments. This thorough approach ensures that all relevant personal and professional impacts are considered, thereby facilitating a just and equitable allocation of damages.

Furthermore, understanding the interplay between statutory thresholds and the principles of common law is essential for practitioners in navigating the legal landscape of personal injury claims in Australia. Each jurisdiction may present subtle variances in how damages are assessed and awarded, necessitating a vigilant and informed legal strategy.
The adjudication of general damages serves not as a financial remedy but as a recognition of the profound and pervasive effects of personal injuries on an individual’s life. It underscores the commitment of the legal system to uphold justice and provide relief to those who have suffered due to the negligence or wrongdoing of others. This commitment is fundamental to fostering trust in the legal process and ensuring that all individuals receive the support necessary to facilitate their recovery and rehabilitation.


What are general damages in the context of Australian personal injury law?

General damages refer to compensation for non-economic losses resulting from an injury. These losses typically include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and other subjective impacts that are not directly quantifiable in monetary terms. General damages are awarded to acknowledge the personal and psychological impact of an injury, distinct from financial losses or specific costs incurred.

How are general damages calculated in Australia?

In Australia, the calculation of general damages is largely subjective and is based on the severity of the injury, the impact on the claimant’s quality of life, and precedents set in similar cases. Courts often use a ‘points system’ or refer to established guidelines that provide a range for compensation amounts based on the type of injury and its severity. The individual circumstances of the injured party are also taken into account to ensure a fair and proportionate compensation.

Are there caps on general damages in Australian personal injury claims?

Yes, in some Australian jurisdictions, there are statutory caps or thresholds on the amount of general damages that can be awarded. These caps are intended to limit awards for less severe injuries and ensure that compensation amounts are proportionate to the severity of the injury. The specific caps can vary by state and territory and are periodically adjusted to reflect current standards and economic conditions.

Can general damages be claimed for psychological injuries in Australia?

Yes, general damages can be claimed for psychological injuries, such as emotional distress, anxiety, and depression, if these conditions are directly related to the physical injury or the incident that caused the injury. Claimants must provide medical evidence of their psychological conditions and demonstrate how these have affected their life to be eligible for such claims.

What is the role of legal advice in pursuing general damages in personal injury claims?

Obtaining legal advice is crucial when pursuing a claim for general damages in Australia. Personal injury law can be complex and varies between jurisdictions. A qualified lawyer can help navigate the legal requirements, ensure that all relevant losses are appropriately documented and argued, and maximize the compensation received. Lawyers are also instrumental in negotiating settlements and representing claimants in court if necessary.

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