I was led some way up the garden path by this headline that was in a sidebar while I was reading something else on an American news site:
is this (what Language Log calls) a ”crash blossom” only to BrE readers like me, who may wonder at first, as I did, how a mount can be damaged by a storm? Or are Americans led up the garden path too?
In my idiolect this headline would have to say “Cost of storm damage mounts” - “Storm damage mounts” on its own doesn’t work, because the damage is there, it’s the cost of putting it right that is being seen to rise. Not least, “damages” to me is strictly something decided upon by a court or tribunal for a defendant to pay a plaintiff, or similar, and is not a synonym for “cost of damage”. I see that the body of the news report says “emergency government officials continued to assess damages from the tornadoes, high winds and hail that accompanied the storm that swept through the Fox Valley.” Again, “damages” there would have to be “the cost of damage” for me.
The OED seems to support me in suggesting “damages” has only a strictly judicial sense of recompense paid by one party to another for a wrong, and the only definitions I can find in the online Merriam-Webster appear to be using “damages” in its legal sense as well. However, I see that Dictionary.com has an extra definition of damages, beyond the legal one, as ”damages Informal - cost; expense; charge: ‘What are the damages for the lubrication job on my car?’” - which in BrE would be “what’s the damage?” Has “damages” in AmE now come to mean “cost of damage”? (Trying to find useful examples even in Google News seems to be a hopeless task because of precisely the verbal use of “damages” that confused me in the headline in the first place …)