What does "Restitutio in Integrum" Mean?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Latin phrase restitutio in integrum, meaning “to return to its original state,” is used in law to refer to an appropriate amount of damages in a civil suit. Under the law, when a plaintiff is successful in bringing suit, the damages awarded should be sufficient to completely remedy the situation, paying for all costs associated with the legal matter and also providing compensation for future expenses related to a case. This may also include payment of legal fees so the plaintiff isn't left with high out-of-pocket expenses.

Restitutio in integrum may lead to a defendant having to pay for medical expenses of the plaintiff.
Restitutio in integrum may lead to a defendant having to pay for medical expenses of the plaintiff.

In a simple example, if a person sues in court for damages caused to a car during an accident and wins, the court would award enough money to completely repair the damages or replace the car, if necessary. If the plaintiff also incurred medical expenses, these would need to be covered, along with money lost as a result of being unable to work. In the event of a permanent disability rendering the plaintiff unable to work again, the restitutio in integrum would also include compensation for lost future earnings.

This term does not just include financial damages. It can also mandate the restoration of a previous legal relationship, such as ordering an insurer to restore coverage someone it dropped unlawfully. While it is not possible to erase the events of the past, the restitutio in integrum can provide compensation for those events and restore the situation to the way it was before as much as possible.

Courts use a number of tools to calculate reasonable damages for the cases they hear. Usually, the plaintiff presents documentation outlining expenses incurred and showing how they are linked to the case. The judge can also investigate the matter to collect additional information, or order an impartial investigator to perform calculations like determining how much money has been lost in future earnings. An unreasonable damages award can be appealed by the respondent to the case and judges usually want to avoid this.

Depending on jurisdiction, the restitutio in integrum can include payments of the plaintiff's legal fees, as the plaintiff would not have spent that money if it had not been necessary to go to court. Judges may also be permitted to award penal damages in some cases, making respondents pay more than the restitutio in integrum as a punishment and warning to people considering similar activities. People who are unsure about the legality of an award can consult their attorneys to get more information and determine if there are grounds for appeal.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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