What is Ad Damnum?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 February 2020
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The Latin phrase “ad damnum,” translated as “to the damage,” refers to a sum named in a civil suit which is supposed to reflect the loss incurred by the plaintiff as a result of the defendant's actions. The plaintiff includes the ad damnum in the papers served on the defendant to alert the defendant to the amount the plaintiff intends to claim. This is not necessarily the amount which will be awarded if the plaintiff wins the suit, but it does give the defendant an idea of the sum of money at stake. The law surrounding ad damnum clauses varies and it is important to be familiar with the applicable laws of the area in which the case is being tried.

In some regions, the ad damnum acts as the maximum which can be awarded without filing a motion to amend the case. If the defendant fails to appear in court and a default judgment is entered against her or him, the amount of the judgment cannot be higher than the ad damnum. In some cases, this sum also applies to civil cases which do go through a trial; otherwise, the defendant could be effectively penalized for showing up in court with an award higher than the sum initially named in the lawsuit.


Plaintiffs often set the ad damnum high. They may be well aware that the full sum will not be rewarded, but setting the bar high leaves room to negotiate and can encourage the jury to award high damages. In some areas attorneys are limited when it comes to naming an ad damnum, to avoid situations in which very high claims are made and awarded and defendants pay well in excess of the real damages.

Awards in excess of the ad damnum can happen when a plaintiff can demonstrate that the amount was set too low at the start of the trial. There are a number of reasons why the amount can be set lower than it should be. For example, someone could claim the replacement cost of a car as a result of a car accident and also claim damages to cover medical expenses, only to learn later that a medical issue related to the car accident was more serious and will require more treatment. In this case, she or he could file a motion raising the ad damnum so that the jury could award a more appropriate amount given the changed circumstances.


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Post 3

@everetra - I believe that the plaintiff’s counsel provides advice on how much to seek in terms of damages. Product liability lawyers are especially skilled in this regard, from what I've seen. They know how to take corporations to the cleaners.

In either case, it takes the burden off the plaintiff for the lawyer to suggest the amount. You can bet that attorneys will ask for maximum amounts, if they can get away with it.

Are there too many frivolous lawsuits siphoning money away from the system? Perhaps there are – but that’s a debate for another day.

Post 2

@everetra - Yes, you are certainly being cynical. If you’ve never filed a lawsuit, there’s no point in asking for too little. You never know what your real liabilities will be. As the article points out, it’s safe to ask high and let the jury award you what they think is reasonable.

In my opinion medical liabilities are where you should really ask for the maximum amount, because medical costs can go through the roof in a hurry. I would perhaps be skeptical of “emotional damages." That’s where people tend to embellish I think.

But again, juries will make the final determination. There’s no point in asking for too little.

Post 1

Well now, perhaps I am a little cynical, but the fact remains that we live in a litigious society. People love to file lawsuits. With that in mind, I am prone to believe that plaintiffs ask for high damages because they want to make as much money as possible, not because they want to give themselves wiggle room for extra expenses like the article talks about.

A lawsuit is a windfall opportunity to make a big chunk of change all at once – so why not make the most of it? Like I said, I am being a little cynical; it’s just that I’ve seen too many lawsuits where damages were set to astronomical levels.

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