What are nominal damages?
UPDATED: December 13, 2019
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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.
Understanding 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 loss he endured. For example, if Joe and Ann have a contract, Ann breaches and Joe suffers a $1,000 loss as a result of Ann's breach, then Joe may be awarded $1,000 in damages because that was the amount of loss he suffered.
Sometimes, however, a person 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" 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.
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.