What are nominal damages?

What are nominal damages? Nominal damages refers to a damage award issued by a court when a legal wrong has occurred, but where there was no actual financial loss as a result of that legal wrong. The remedy he is seeking is usually monetary, except in rare cases where an “equitable remedy” like an injunction is sought.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jan 11, 2021

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Nominal damages refers to a damage award issued by a court when a legal wrong has occurred, but where there was no actual financial loss as a result of that legal wrong. Typically, when a nominal damage award is used, the plaintiff will be awarded $1 or $2. This may seem silly, but nominal damages serve an important purpose.

What are nominal damages?

When a plaintiff sues in court, he must have legal grounds for the lawsuit and he has to be seeking some remedy. The remedy he is seeking is usually monetary, except in rare cases where an “equitable remedy” like an injunction is sought. The monetary remedy is going to be based on the monetary losses he endured. For example, if Joe and Ann have a contract, Ann breaches and Joe suffers $1,000 losses in monetary damages as a result of Ann’s breach, the verdict may award Joe $1,000 in damages for costs because that was the amount of loss he suffered.

Sometimes, however, a person contacts an attorney and wants to sue but didn’t actually suffer any sort of tangible or actual loss. He still needs to seek a remedy, because courts can only hear cases where there is an actual controversy and some kind of relief is being sought. So, he may sue, the court may hear the case and decide for the plaintiff, and “nominal damages” that may be monetary compensation may be awarded.

Why would the plaintiff bother to do this? There are a number of reasons. Sometimes, he wants vindication that he was right. Sometimes, an award of nominal damages will also allow him to obtain punitive damages, which are damages designed to punish a defendant, rather than compensate a plaintiff. In other cases, the plaintiff may be suing because he is fighting for a cause, like if he believes his Constitutional Rights are being violated.

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How can you get legal help?

Whatever the reason, suits for nominal damages can and do happen. If you believe that this may be something that could apply in your case, you will want to schedule a consultation with a lawyer for advice and guidance on how best to proceed.

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