What Damages Can I Sue for in a Breach of Contract Case?

When one party does not fulfill its obligations under a contract, it is called a breach of contract, and the non-breaching party may be able to file a lawsuit. Possible damages could include money owed by the breaching party for services or goods rendered, loss of revenue caused when products or services were not provided and other costs incurred as a result of the breach. 

A contract is a legally binding agreement between two or more parties that outlines the terms for an exchange. The purpose of a breach of contract action is to make the plaintiff “whole,” which means to put them in the same position they would have been if the contract had not been breached. In other words, damages are meant to compensate the aggrieved party for the detriment caused by the breach. 

Types of Damages

There are two primary types of damages available in a breach of contract case: general damages and special damages.

General Damages

General damages are the most commonly-awarded type of damages in breach of contract cases. They reimburse the plaintiff for losses directly and necessarily caused by the breach. 

For example, if a vendor does not supply the product it agreed to sell to a purchaser in a contract, the purchaser could recover general damages for any amount the purchaser prepaid for the product as well as the extra expenses associated with obtaining the product from another seller, potentially at a higher price.

Special Damages

Special damages are awarded for actual losses caused by the breach that would not ordinarily be predictable but were incurred based on special circumstances of the situation. In order to receive special damages, the plaintiff must prove that the breaching party was aware of the special circumstances when the contract was signed. If the breaching party did not know the details of the situation, they cannot be held liable for special damages, even if the aggrieved party suffered a substantial loss.

For example, suppose a businessperson contracts with a vendor to supply tables and chairs for a new restaurant, and the vendor knows they need the furniture by a certain date for the restaurant opening. If the vendor fails to deliver the furniture in time, the restauranteur may be able to obtain special damages for the losses incurred because of the delay, such as the cost of renting tables and chairs until the furniture arrived or losses suffered if the opening had to be delayed because of the breach. 

How Do You Prove Breach of Contract?

There are four basic elements you must show in order to prove a breach of contract:

  1. Contract
  2. Substantial performance
  3. Breach
  4. Damages

Each of these requirements is further detailed below.


Before you can recover for a breach of contract, you must prove that a legally binding contract existing. To prove your contract was valid, you must show:

  • An offer
  • An acceptance
  • Consideration

The contract formation process starts with an offer, where one party offers to do something for the other in exchange for something else. For example, consider a garage sale. The price tag on an item constitutes an offer from the seller: if you pay them the amount shown, they will give you the item. 

Acceptance occurs when the other party agrees to the terms of the offer. In the case of the garage sale, the buyer can take the item to the seller and agree to pay the price on the tag. This would constitute acceptance of the offer. But the buyer might also want to haggle and counteroffer the seller a lower price. The seller then must accept the counteroffer for a contract to be formed. 

Binding contracts must also include “consideration,” which means that each side must receive a benefit from the agreement. So in our garage sale example, the consideration is the item for sale on one side and money on the other. A one-sided promise to make a gift is not considered a legally binding contract because there is no consideration involved.  

Substantial Performance

In order to succeed in a breach of contract claim, you must either prove that you “substantially” performed your obligations under the contract, or that you have a legitimate reason for not performing them. Substantial performance means that you mostly fulfilled your duties and the other party received essentially what they asked for.  


Naturally, an important part of a breach of contract case is proving that the other party breached the contract by failing to fulfill their obligations. To establish a breach, you must show that the other side failed to substantially perform their duties through no fault of your own. For example, if you somehow prevented the other party from fulfilling their side of the agreement, you could not claim they breached the contract.


It is not enough to show that the contract was breached; you must show that you suffered loss as a result of the breach. For example, if a product was not received by the deadline in the contract but you did not experience any losses because of the delay, you would not be able to succeed in a breach of contract claim because there would be no damages to recover. 

How Long Does a Breach of Contract Lawsuit Take?

It depends. The length of time a breach of contract lawsuit takes can vary drastically based on many factors, including the facts of the case, the strength of both side’s arguments, the court where you file your case, and whether the claim is settled or the case goes to trial. 

Generally, you can expect your case to take several months or even years to be resolved. You should consult with an experienced contract litigation attorney to get a better idea of how long your particular case might take.

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