Source: A Brief Introduction to Law in Canada (Mar. 2017). p. 173 Middle.

As in tort law, the most important remedy in contract law is damages. Contract damages classified differently, though. three main categories in contract law are: (1) expect- damages, (2) reliance damages, and (3) restitution damages. Punitive damages may also be available, but only in usual cases.
  Expectation damages attempt to place the innocent party in the position she would have been in if the contract had been performed as promised and all the contractual representa-tions were true. This method of assessing damages is the standard method used to calculate damages in contract disputes. Expectation damages typically claimed include out-of-pocket expenses to correct defective performance (for example, where construction work is shoddy and has to be fixed) and loss of profits (for example, where a commodity was not delivered and the purchaser was unable to resell for a profit as planned).
  Expectation damages sometimes have alternate names depending on what they represent or how they are calculated. For instance, out-of-pocket expenses can also be called special damages because they have already been incurred and are certain. The term general damages can be used to describe the value of a lost expectation that is not specifically quantifiable, such as the enjoyment the plaintiff hoped to experience on a vacation (where a vacation planner failed to deliver as promised). Liquidated damages, which are another type of ex-pectation claim, refer to damages that the parties have calculated in advance. They can only be claimed, however, where the parties have put a clause in the contract setting out what the damages are to be, and where the amount represents a genuine pre-estimate of the loss ex-pected to be suffered in the event of breach. Liquidated damages clauses can save the par-ties the trouble of arguing about what the damages are if the contract is broken.

The use of "special" for "special damages" appears outlandish and unfit to me. What exactly is special about such damages, when they are predictable and calculable?

2 Answers 2


This is sense A. 1b of ‘special’ in the Oxford English Dictionary:

Designating a thing: specific, individual or particular to the specified person, thing or set. Now rare (in later use tending to merge with or be understood as sense A. 4a).

Special damages are those that can be specified by reference to particular expenses. They are not exceptional or unusual. As noted in the OED, ‘special’ is rarely used in this sense today; modern English users would be more likely to say ‘specific.’ However, the special/general distinction is still used in terms like ‘special/general counsel’ and ‘special/general relativity.’

  • 1
    FWIW, the use of a now uncommon sense of the word has led to some confusion in the case law and legal practice, with some judges and parties erroneously taking special to mean unusual or not normally expected from such as incident.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 19:13
  • @ohwilleke Good to know! +1 to you.
    – user89
    Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 2:53

It's just words. There is nothing "special" about "special damages", it's just what they are called. And it's not unreasonable to call non-"regular" damages "special". A word was needed, "special" was chosen.

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