Nominal Damages

If an injured party is harmed or has property that is damaged by the intentional or negligent conduct of a defendant, he may bring an action to recover damages. Sometimes the injured party recovers a verdict but only nominal, or minimal, damages.

When nominal damages are awarded

Nominal damages may be awarded if:

1) a wrong has been committed against an injured party's legal right but no actual loss or injury has been sustained or proved; or

2) actual loss has been shown, but the extent and amount of the loss or injury have not been proved.

Therefore, if the injured party proves the defendant's liability for the injury and the extent of the resulting loss or harm, nominal damages will not be awarded.

If an injured party receives compensatory damages for a small loss, those damages are not called nominal damages even though the amount may be low.

Amount of nominal damages awarded

The amount of nominal damages is usually determined without considering the extent of harm done. The typical amount awarded as nominal damages is one dollar. Some jurisdictions award even less (e.g., one penny). Other states do not restrict the amount so low and vary the amount according to the circumstances.

Purpose of awarding nominal damages

If an injured party receives only a trivial amount, what is the point of awarding damages at all? Nominal damages are a declaration that the injured party's rights were invaded and that it was the defendant who committed the infraction. They show that the injured party has received a "moral" victory. In some states, an award of nominal damages may entitle the injured party to receive costs as the prevailing party. The award of nominal damages may give the injured party a right to other remedies, including punitive damages.

Nominal damages in certain actions

Nominal damages are sometimes awarded in actions in which a defendant has violated an injured party's rights of privacy and uninterrupted enjoyment of one's property. Thus, they may be given in actions for trespass, breach of warranty, defamation, malicious prosecution, assault, false imprisonment, fraud, and nuisance.

Several states do not award nominal damages in a personal injury action for negligence if the injured party does not prove actual loss. On the other hand, nominal damages may be awarded if actual loss is shown and the dispute merely concerns the extent or amount of the damages incurred.

Jurisdictions vary as to permitting nominal damages in wrongful death actions.

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