The act of fixing the amount of damages is called the assessment of damages. Assessment of damages is subject to various judicial guidelines. The general principle is that the claimant is entitled to full compensation for his or her losses In tort, the purpose of damages is to put the claimant in the position that s/he would have been in had the tort not been committed. In Contract, the purpose of damages is to put the claimant in the position that s/he would have been in had the contract been performed. In either case the claimant must take all reasonable steps to mitigate his or her losses.
When an action is filed to recover damages only, and not brought for the specific recovery of lands, goods, or sums of money, the usual course is to issue a writ of inquiry. By virtue of such writ, the sheriff, aided by twelve lawful men, ascertains the amount of damages, and makes return to the court of the inquisition, which, unless set aside, fixes the damages, and a final judgment follows.
But when the action is founded on a promissory note, bond, or other contract in writing, by which the amount of money due may be easily computed, it is the practice, in some courts, to refer to the clerk or prothonotary the assessment of damages. In such cases no writ of inquiry is issued.