United States v. Burke, 504 U.S. 229, 7 (1992)

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Cite as: 504 U. S. 229 (1992)

Opinion of the Court

See R. Heuston, Salmond on the Law of Torts 9 (12th ed. 1957) (noting that "an action for damages" is "an essential characteristic of every true tort," and that, even where other relief, such as an injunction, may be available, "in all such cases it is solely by virtue of the right to damages that the wrong complained of is to be classed as a tort"). Indeed, one of the hallmarks of traditional tort liability is the availability of a broad range of damages to compensate the plaintiff "fairly for injuries caused by the violation of his legal rights." Carey v. Piphus, 435 U. S. 247, 257 (1978). Although these damages often are described in compensatory terms, see Memphis Community School Dist. v. Stachura, 477 U. S. 299, 306 (1986), in many cases they are larger than the amount necessary to reimburse actual monetary loss sustained or even anticipated by the plaintiff, and thus redress intangible elements of injury that are "deemed important, even though not pecuniary in [their] immediate consequence[s]." D. Dobbs, Law of Remedies 136 (1973). Cf. Molzof v. United States, 502 U. S. 301, 306-307 (1992) (compensatory awards that exceed actual loss are not prohibited as "punitive" damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act).

For example, the victim of a physical injury may be permitted, under the relevant state law, to recover damages not only for lost wages, medical expenses, and diminished future earning capacity on account of the injury, but also for emotional distress and pain and suffering. See Dobbs, at 540- 551; Threlkeld v. Commissioner, 87 T. C., at 1300. Similarly, the victim of a "dignitary" or nonphysical tort 6 such as defa-6 Although the IRS briefly interpreted 104(a)(2)'s statutory predecessor, 213(b)(6) of the Revenue Act of 1918, 40 Stat. 1066, to restrict the scope of personal injuries to physical injuries, see S. 1384, 2 Cum. Bull. 71 (1920) (determining, on basis of statutory text and "history of the legislation" that "it appears more probable . . . that the term 'personal injuries,' as used therein means physical injuries only"); Knickerbocker, The Income Tax Treatment of Damages, 47 Cornell L. Q. 429, 431 (1962), the courts and the IRS long since have recognized that 104(a)(2)'s reference to "personal injuries" encompasses, in accord with common judicial parlance and con-


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