Restitution for civil wrongs, also known as restitutionary damages, is a legal response through which the defendant’s wrongful gain is awarded to the claimant. James Edelman has recently advocated two different restitutionary responses for wrongs. One response, termed ‘restitutionary damages’, would aim to compel the wrongdoer to give back to the victim a wrongful gain, whereas the other response, ‘disgorgement damages’, would oblige the wrongdoer to give up a wrongful gain for the benefit of the claimant.
In the first case, the claimant would obtain what should have never left his assets. In the second case, the claimant would be the beneficiary of a judicial decision according to which a wrongful gain should not be kept by the wrongdoer. In this essay, I seek to demonstrate that this taxonomy cannot be accepted. I argue that Edelman’s ‘disgorgement damages’ are the only true example of restitution for wrongs, whereas his ’restitutionary damages’ are simply compensatory damages which are quantified in a particular fashion. Edelman’s ‘restitutionary damages’ might appear to deprive the defendant of his gain, and thus to achieve a restitutionary goal. Yet they nullify the victim’s loss and therefore have a compensatory nature. They are ‘pseudo-restitutionary damages’. In opposition to the dual theory, I submit a model of restitutionary damages based upon a single response which is coherent with the tenets of corrective justice. Given that it deals mainly with Edelman’s ‘restitutionary damages’, this article is not so much about restitution for wrongs but rather about compensation, which is what Edelman’s ‘restitutionary damages’ really concerns. The theory which I propose, based upon a single restitutionary response for wrongs, solves the taxonomic incoherence of Edelman’s dual theory. It also reflects the law as we find it, being supportable by reference to the available judicial authorities.