What is Actual Damages?

Legal Definition
Money awarded to compensate for actual losses (also called "compensatory damages"). The amount awarded is based on the proven harm, loss, or injury suffered by the plaintiff. This award does not include punitive damages, which may be awarded when the defendant's actions are especially reckless or malicious.

See Birdsall v. Coolidge, 93 U.S. 64, 64 (1876) for a Supreme Court decision confirming that actual and compensatory damages mean the same thing.

See Damages, Punitive damages
Legal Definition
are real, substantial and just damages, or the amount awarded to a complainant in compensation for his actual and real loss or injury, as opposed on the one hand to "nominal" damages, and on the other to "exemplary" or "punitive" damages. Ross v. Leggett, 61 Mich. 445, 28 N. W. 695, 1 Am. St Rep. 608; Lord v. Wood, 120 Iowa, 303, 94 N. W. 842; Western Union Tel. Co. v. Lawson, 66 Kan. 660, 72 Pac. 283; Field v. Munster, 11 Tex. Civ. App. 341, 32 S. W. 417; Oliver v. Columbia, etc., R. Co.., 65 S. C. 1, 48 S. EL 307; Gatzow v. Buening, 106 Wis. 1, 81 N. W. 1003, 49 In R. A. 475, 80 Am. St. Rep 1; Osborn v. Leach, 135 N. C. 628 47 S. E. 811, 66 L. R. A. 648; Gen. St. Minn. 1894, § 5418.
-- Black's Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
Amount of loss or injury, as distinguished from punitive or exemplary damages.
-- Ballentine's Law Dictionary